Defining respondeat superior

The destructive potential of the large semi-trucks that people see driving around Bowling Green may mean that those involved in truck accidents can reasonably expect to have to deal with massive recovery costs. These can include both medical expenses, lost wages and automotive repair costs. Yet before one can seek compensation for such expenses, it should first be determined who is liable: the truck driver or the company that employs them? 

The legal principle of respondeat superior allows vicarious liability to be assigned to employers for the actions of their employees. This liability can even extend to an employee's negligent actions in certain situations. However, it does not mean that an employer is responsible for every accident involving an employee. Rulings issued by The Supreme Court of Kentucky have established the standard by which the state applies this doctrine. It has stated that a company "is not liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior unless the intentional wrongs of the agent were calculated to advance the cause of the principal or were appropriate to the normal scope of the operator's employment." Thus, only if a truck driver was engaged in work falling within the normal scope of their employment can respondeat superior be cited in a case. 

Another factor to be considered is whether a truck driver is considered an independent contractor. According to Cornell Law School, elements considered when making this determination include: 

  • How much control an agent has over the requirements of their own work
  • Whether the work engaged in by an agent can be done with or without supervision
  • If the agent or the principal supplies the equipment needed to accomplish the work

If a truck driver is determined to be an independent contractor, the company they work with cannot be held liable for their actions. 

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