Vicarious Liability

In the State of Pennsylvania, employers can sometimes be found liable for the actions of their employees. When an employer is held liable for the actions of one of its employees, this is formally known as vicarious liability. In this article, we discuss the legal concept of vicarious liability in Pennsylvania. 

Overview of Vicarious Liability 

Overview of Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability attaches liability to an employer for the actions of an employee—even when the employer had nothing to do with the employee’s negligent actions. The reason that the law imposes vicarious liability on employers in certain situations is to encourage them to implement proactive safety measures. When the state imposes liability on employers for the actions of their employees, it forces employers to discourage negligence, invest in employee training programs, and properly supervise their employees. 

And for plaintiffs who are injured by an employee, vicarious liability is a tool available to increase the odds that they obtain financial compensation for their injuries. For example, while an employee may be unable to afford to pay the costs associated with a plaintiff’s injuries, employers often have the resources available to do so. 

Vicarious Liability Requirements in Pennsylvania 

To recover under a theory of vicarious liability in the state of Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the damages he or she suffered were caused by an employee acting within the course and scope of his or her employment.  “Course and scope of employment” is a legal phrase that is fundamental to every vicarious liability case. 

Generally, an employee acts within the course and scope of employment if his or her conduct is of the type that he or she was hired to perform. In addition, an employee’s actions may fall within the course and scope of employment if they were conducted to serve the employer’s interests. 

In summary, most conduct that an employer has authorized an employee to undertake, either implicitly or expressly, qualifies as being within the course and scope of employment. 

Employee vs. Independent Contractor Distinction

As discussed above, depending on the circumstances, an employer may be found vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its employees. However, this doesn’t typically apply when an independent contractor is involved. Therefore, a common issue in personal injury lawsuits involving claims of vicarious liability is whether the negligent party is an employee or independent contractor. 

To determine the nature of a working relationship in a personal injury lawsuit, courts examine a defendant’s level of control over another’s work. In other words, in determining whether a negligent party is an employee or independent contractor, a court will attempt to determine whether the defendant in a lawsuit had actual control or the right to control the work of the party whose negligence resulted in injury at the time the injury occurred. 

In addition, although control is the primary factor in examining a working relationship for the purpose of determining vicarious liability, other factors courts consider in making such determinations include:

  • The level of skill required to perform the job
  • The nature of the position
  • Whether the working party is engaged in a distinct business or occupation 
  • Whether the working party supplies his or her own tools
  • Whether the working party is paid by the job or hourly/by salary
  • Whether the work performed constitutes the regular business of the employer 
  • Whether the parties may terminate the working relationship at any time


In some states, vicarious liability does not apply when an employee commits an intentional or criminal act. However, in Pennsylvania, an employer may be found vicariously liable for the acts of an employee even in cases involving intentional acts, as long as the following factors are present:

  • The act in question was in furtherance of the interests of the employer’s interest 
  • The acts of the employee could have been reasonably foreseen by the employer

For example, if a business owner knows that a security guard on staff has acted violently in the past, then it is reasonably foreseeable that the employee may act violently towards a customer to prevent theft. In this situation, the employer could be held vicariously liable for the intentionally violent act of the employee.  

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney 

If you’ve been hurt in an accident of any kind in the State of Pennsylvania, you should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. At Marzzacco Niven & Associates, we are here to help you recover from your injuries. When you come to us for help with your personal injury, we will do everything we can to obtain financial compensation on your behalf. Please contact us at (717) 231-1640 to schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.