vicarious liability


Every person is liable for acts, the person commits and not liable for the acts done by others but in some situations when a person is liable for the acts of another person is known as vicarious liability. So, for this to happen there must be a specific kind of relationship between both the people and the act must be connected with the relationship. These relationships can be of a master and servant or principal and agent.

Vicarious liability is the liability of a person for an act of another person because of their relationship with each other.


Vicarious Liability is a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently. It is also referred to as imputed negligence.

In other words, Vicarious Liability means a liability that is imposed on a person for an unlawful act or omission by another person. Here even if a person did not do any wrongful act himself, he can still be held liable if someone else does such an act. The liability arises in those cases where there is a special relationship that exists between the wrongdoer and the person who is held liable such as the master and servant relationship.


A is an employee of B and while doing his job, due to his negligence C suffers injury. Here due to vicarious liability, B will be held liable for A’s act because A was working on his behalf, during employment and thus B will be liable for any wrong that arises from an act of A because B has authorized him to do the act. 

So, Vicarious Liability only deals with the situation where the person is liable for some other person’s actions. It is considered as an exception to the general rule that the person is liable for his acts only. 


Liability does not arise randomly because A doing something wrong will not make B responsible but only when there is a special relationship that exists between people, vicarious liability will work. Therefore, if A and B have a relationship under vicarious liability, only then B will be responsible for the action of A

There are many relations in which the concept of vicarious liability arises:

  1. Master and Servant
  2. Principal and Agent
  3. Partners in a Partnership Firms
  4. Company and its Directors
  5. Owner and Independent contractors

If there is a relation of the above-mentioned nature between two persons where the liability may arise from the person or such action is committed by another person. For example, if A and B are in a master-servant relationship then, for any wrongdoing committed by A, his master B will also be liable if the act was committed at the time of A’s employment.


Vicarious Liability is based on two very important principles or maxims which are as follows:

  1. Qui Facit per Alium Facit Per se
  2. Respondeat Superior

Qui Facit Per Alium Facit Per Se

According to this maxim, a person who acts through another person is deemed by law and has committed that act himself. Therefore whenever a person authorizes another person to do so for himself, if any liability arises as a result of such an act the person granting the authorization will be prosecuted because, by law, he has committed himself through another person, and will therefore be liable.

Respondeat Superior

According to this maxim, the superior must be accountable to the law for the actions of his subordinates. So whenever a subordinate commits an act of another person, another supreme person will be held liable for the errors of that law and will thus be vicariously liable.


The essentials of vicarious liability are:

           1. There should be some kind of relationship between the parties.

           2. The wrongful act must be done by someone else.

           3. The wrongful act must occur at the time of employment


The reasons behind holding the master liable for the actions of his servant are:

  1. A servant is an agent who is controlled and employed by his employer. Thus, the servant’s acts are in harmony with the master, which means that he acts in a way that pleases the master. The master, therefore, must be responsible for his actions.
  2. The master always enjoys the benefits of the servant’s efforts, so he must also bear the loss of the servant’s work but only during his employment.
  3. The master is more secure than the servant. The master, therefore, is more suitable to pay the damages caused by the servant’s act of cruelty. But masters are allowed to take proper care and precautions to protect themselves in such situations.


  • Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company v.  Secretary of State for India

This case is a pre-constitution case that prescribed the difference between sovereign and non-sovereign functions of the state.

The simple fact is, in this case, that the company servant was on his way to Calcutta in a carriage pulled by a couple of horses. An accident occurred while the vehicle was traveling through the government dockyard. Some Government Dockyard crews were carrying heavy metal rods to repair the boat. However, the workers threw down the iron rods, the sound of which struck one of the Plaintiff’s horses.

The company has complained with the Secretary of State of India for assistance in damages. The Calcutta Supreme Court has ruled that the Secretary of State is responsible for the damage. This is the first case that has brought about a distinction between state functions not performed by the state. Since the care of the Document is an unregulated activity, the Government was indicted.

  • State of Rajasthan v. Vidyawati

The facts, in this case, are that a man named Lokumal was employed by the Rajasthan Government as a temporary driver of a Government vehicle. After the car was repaired, on his way back from the workshop, he knocked down a resident named Jagdishlal (Complainant). Jagdishlal was seriously injured and died later.

The complainant’s wife (widow) named Vidyawati and her young daughter, through her mother as a close friend sued Lokumal and the State of Rajasthan for help. The Supreme Court ruled that the State was guilty of damaging the damage done as the driver’s action was not an independent function.

  • Kasturilal Ralia Ram v. State of UP

The facts of this case are that Plaintiff was arrested by the UP police officers on suspicion of having stolen property. On further investigation, a huge quantity of gold was found and the same was seized by the police officials. Finally, he was released, but the gold was not returned to him as the Head Constable in charge of the makhana absconded with the gold.  Plaintiff then sued the State of UP to return his gold or to pay damages for the same.

Supreme Court said that it is the negligence of the police officers in dealing with the Plaintiff’s property and is violative of the UP Police Regulations.

But the court finally contended that the State is not liable to pay because the police officers acted negligently while they are executing their duty in arresting a person. These powers like arresting a person and seizing property are sovereign. The contention of the Supreme Court was based on the statutory power and the act done in exercise of the sovereign function.

Aishwarya Says:

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