Liability without fault

An employer can be legally responsible for the actions of its employees. This is known as respondeat superior liability. This liability is imposed without fault on the part of the employer.

To establish this claim, the injured person must prove that:

  1. the act was the kind that the employee was employed to perform
  2. the act occurred substantially within the authorized time and space limits of the employment, and
  3. the act was moti­vated at least in part by a purpose to serve the employer.

An employer may also be liable for the acts of its agents acting outside the scope of their employment under certain circum­stances (such as where the employer intended the conduct, or was negligent or reckless).

The central question in most cases is whether or not the employee’s conduct was within the scope of employment.  The test in Arizona for acting within the scope of employment is fairly broad:

“An employee is acting within the scope of his employ­ment while he is doing any reasonable thing which his employment expressly or impliedly authorizes him to do or which may reasonably be said to have been contemplated by that employment as necessarily or probably incidental to the employment.”

An employer is generally not responsible for travel by an employee while going to and from the work place (even if the employer pays the employee for travel time). An employee traveling during his lunch hour is usually not acting within the scope of his employment, either.

However, if the employee is also performing a service for the employer that would have necessitated another trip by an employee, the employer will be responsible for that employee’s actions. (An employer may be responsible for the acts of an employee who drops off the mail at the post office on his way home from work, for example.) An employer may also be held liable when an employee is involved in an accident while running a special errand for his employer, not involving his normal duties.

Whether an employer is liable for the actions of an employee is generally a question of fact, to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The smart employer will realize when the conduct of its employees may give rise to liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior, and have a policy of insurance in place to cover that liability.

The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission. 

Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created. 

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