Why You Should Care About Vicarious Liability

Why You Should Care About Vicarious Liability

Even though Illinois has a mandatory auto insurance law, about one in eight drivers in the Prairie State have no insurance. Furthermore, Illinois has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum coverage requirements in the country. So, many other drivers are dangerously underinsured.

Lack of insurance is particularly an issue in catastrophic injury situations, such as wrongful death. Sometimes, these tortfeasors (negligent drivers) may not have enough coverage to fully compensate the victim/plaintiff.

It is possible to file a claim against the individual and collect the balance, but many people are effectively judgment-proof. Fortunately, Illinois has liberal third party liability rules. So, an additional source of recovery may be available in many of these cases.

Employer Liability

If the tortfeasor was an Uber driver, taxi driver, bus driver, or another commercial operator, the respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) rule usually applies. In Illinois, employers are liable for the negligent acts of their worker if:

  • Employee: The tortfeasor must be an employee, and this word is very broadly defined in this context. It usually means any individual that the employer controls to any extent. Such control could include hours worked, wages paid, rules laid down, or tools provided. So, independent contractors, owner-operators, and even many unpaid volunteers are “employees” in this context.
  • Scope of Employment: Similarly, this phrase is also very broadly defined. It includes any activity which benefits the employer in any way. That could include driving an empty vehicle back to the garage.
  • Foreseeability: The victim/plaintiff’s injuries must be a foreseeable result of the tortfeasor’s negligence. For example, it is foreseeable that a driver might strike a pedestrian on the sidewalk, However, a medical mistake during treatment is not foreseeable, as far as the tortfeasor is concerned.

Illinois is a modified joint and several-liability state. So, if there are multiple responsible parties, the judge usually apportions damages among them based on their percentage of fault.

Alcohol Provider Liability

Many states have limited or eliminated their dram shop laws in recent years. But Illinois law still holds bars, grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, and other commercial alcohol providers liable for damages in some cases.

Many states require direct evidence in these cases. Such evidence usually must include knowledge of intoxication. But under Illinois law, victim/plaintiffs need only establish that the provide alcohol was a proximate (substantial) cause of the tortfeasor’s intoxication. There is no knowledge requirement.

Packaged alcohol providers are usually liable in the same way as non-packaged providers. It is foreseeable that a patron will open a bottle of beer or other alcohol and drink it on the way home.

Owner Liability

Knowledge may not be a requirement in vicarious owner liability claims either. The victim/plaintiff need only prove that the owner negligently entrusted property to an incompetent driver. People without valid drivers’ licenses are usually incompetent as a matter of law. In other cases, such as a bad driving record, circumstantial evidence of knowledge and incompetency may establish liability.

Commercial negligent entrustment cases work a bit differently, due to the Graves Amendment.

Partner With an Assertive Attorney

The tortfeasor may not be the only person responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Chicago, contact Michael T. Friedman & Associates, P.C. Home and hospital visits are available.

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