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THE VICARIOUS LIABILITY UNDER TORT LAW AND CASE LAWS

Introduction to law of tort

No one is held liable for the acts committed by others but in torts there exists a provision of Vicarious liability which arises due to the acts of another person even when the person is not involved in the act. For example, A is the driver and B is the master. A is driving the car and B is not giving any instructions to him and is sitting in the back seat and doing his work on a laptop meanwhile A hits someone. B will be liable for the act done by A even if he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Vicarious liability in tort law refers to the kind of liability which arises due to the wrong act done by another person and such liability occur because of the following kinds of relationships between two people:

  • Master and Servant relationship
  • Principal and Agent relationship
  • Partners in Partnership Firm relationship
  • Employer and Independent Contract

MASTER-SERVANT RELATIONSHIP

In tort, the master is liable for all the acts done by his servant during the course of employment. It is not considered whether the act was directed by the master or not. All the acts which are authorized by him make him liable.

There are two important conditions that should be satisfied to impose Vicarious liability on the Master which are:

  • The act should be done by the servant
  • The act should be committed during the course of employment.

The Vicarious liability of the master is based upon the two maxims which are Qui facit per alium facit per se and respondant superior.

Qui facit per alium facit per se: The maxim refers to “whoever acts through others acts as if he were doing it himself”. According to Salmond, if any action is performed by the servant for his master’s benefit which is performed with his master’s direct or implicit authority is called to be a master’s act for which he is held liable. Any individual who is enough capable of compensating for the negative consequences of his action should not be able to delegate it and avoid serious consequences by making his servant do such acts.

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Deo Narain Rai and Anr. vs. Kukur Bind and Ors.

In this case, the Allahabad High Court held that the signature of the mortgagor is sufficient to establish vicarious liability.

Respondant Superior: The maxim states that for the acts of a subordinate his superior will be held liable. The doctrine had its origin in the United States and has its origin from a Latin word that means ‘Let the master answer’.

In the case Automobiles Transport vs. Dewalal and ors, Court held that the company is Vicariously liable for the actions of its servant during the course of employment.

Smt. Savita Garg vs. The Director, National Heart Institute

In this case, Court said that under the contract of employment, the hospital is the principal and doctors are agents and the former is liable for the negligence or acts of doctors.

There are reasons for making a master liable for the acts of his servant which are:

  • The first one is that the acts of servants are assumed to be done by the master indirectly and so for all the wrongs of servants he is held liable.
  • The second reason is that master is in a better financial position as compared to his servant. He can pay for the tortious activities of his servant and because of this, he makes sure that all the activities of the servant are carried on with reasonable care and precautions to avoid any kind of loss and liability.
  • As the benefit arising from the actions undertaken by the servant is enjoyed by the master and because of this the provision for the burden of liability is imposed on the master.

Anita Bhandari & Ors. vs. Union of India

In this case, the husband went to the bank. When he was entering the bank, the bank’s cashbox was also brought inside the bank. The guard in haste and hurry shot him dead. Council of Petitioner argued in court that the bank was vicariously liable as the guard shot the husband during his course of employment. The bank gave the reason that it has not given the guard authority to shoot.

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The court gave judgment that the bank was vicariously liable as the act of the bank giving its guard a gun authorized him to shoot whenever he felt the need. The guard shot husband in the course of employment and the bank was held liable.

Bayley v Manchester S&L Railway

In this case, the porter of the railway company falsely thought that the plaintiff was in the wrong carriage. In actuality, the plaintiff was in the right carriage. Porter pulled out the plaintiff from the carriage during which he got many injuries.

The court said that if the plaintiff was in the wrong carriage, then the act of porter could have been considered proper. As the act was conducted during the course of employment, the railway company was held vicariously liable.

Pushpabai Purshottam Udeshi & Ors. v. Ranjit Ginning & Pressing Co.

In this case, a person who died in an accident who was traveling in the car that the manager of the respondent company drove. The representatives of the deceased sued the company and claimed damages in the tribunal which was allowed to them. The case was further taken to High Court by the respondents.  The Court gave distinct judgment and said that the accident does not make the respondent company vicariously liable. Then the matter was taken to SC and it overruled the judgment of the High Court. Apex Court said that it is clear that the accident occurred due to the negligence of the manager who was driving the car during the course of employment and liability was imposed.

Gregory v. Piper

In this case, the defendant in order to prevent the plaintiff from going that way ordered his servant to place rubbish across the pathway. In spite of extra care, the part of rubbish touched the plaintiff’s property. The defendant was sued for the tort of trespass to the plaintiff’s property. The Court imposed vicarious liability on the defendant despite his servant taking due care to avoid such a situation of rubbish touching the walls of the plaintiff’s property.

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PRINCIPAL-AGENT RELATIONSHIP

An agent is a person who performs some acts on behalf of the Principal. For the acts of the agent done during the course of employment, the Principal is held liable. If the agent has performed any act without the permission or without any knowledge of the Principal then also still for any wrong done by the agent in such situation, the Principal will be held Vicariously liable.

PARTNERS IN PARTNERSHIP FIRM

In the partnership firm, all the partners are liable for the act committed by any one or more partners. This is because as the act is performed for the business, then the benefit is shared by all the partners together so the liability is also imposed on all of them.

Hamlyn vs Houston,

In this case, one of the partners gave a bribe to the plaintiff’s clerk. He asked him to provide all confidential information about his employer and his firm. The Court held that both the partners will be liable even if the act was undertaken by only one partner.

EMPLOYER AND INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR

Generally, the employer is not liable for the acts of the independent contractor but there are situations where he can be held liable like when he himself authorized the contractor to commit a crime or in cases of strict liability or etc.

CONCLUSION

Under tort, the person can be held Vicariously Liable for the acts of another person if there exists a relation of a master-servant, partnership, principal-agent, and employer–independent contractor among them. The act should be done during the course of employment and there should be sufficient reasons in the facts of the case to believe that the master is vicariously liable.

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