The master-servant and employer-employee relationships are governed by different doctrines. These doctrines are sometimes used to assess a person’s liability. The doctrine of Respondeat Superior, which is founded on the principle of vicarious liability, is one of these doctrines.


  • The maxim Respondeat Superior had its origin in the United States and originated from a Latin word meaning, “Let the master answer.”
  • “This maxim is a doctrine in tort law that makes a master liable for the wrong of a servant.”
  • The maxim is based on the concept of Vicarious Liability (i.e. The liability of one person for the act done by another person).
  • If a servant does any wrongful acts within the scope of his/her employment, the master is liable for it. The servant, of course, is also liable. The wrongful act of the servant is considered to be the act of the master.
  • This maxim derives its validity from the maxim qui facit per alium facit per se, which means “He who acts through another does the act himself.”
  • When this doctrine applies, both the employer and the master are responsible for an employee’s and a servant’s incompetent acts or omissions during the course of employment. However, in order for the superiors to be held liable, a relationship between the superior and the subordinate must be established.
  • For Example, ‘P’ was working in the garage owned by ‘Q’. While repairing the car of ‘R’, ‘P’ broke one of the component of the car which was worth Rs.40,000. ‘Q’ was held to be vicariously liable for the damage caused by ‘P’.
  • In the above mentioned illustration, though the wrongful act was done by an employee ‘P’, the employer ‘Q’ was held liable vicariously.
  • In this maxim, the plaintiff has a choice to bring an action either against one or both the employee and employer. Their liability is joint and several as they both are considered as joint tortfeasors.
  •  The reason for the maxim respondeat superior (let the master be liable) seems to be the master’s stronger position to meet the claim due to his or her greater pocket and willingness to pass on the liability burden by insurance. Even if the servant acted against his master’s express orders and with no profit to him, he is liable.


For the liability of the master/employer to arise, the following two essentials are to be present:

  1. The tort was committed by the ‘servant’.
  2. The servant committed the tort within the ‘scope of his employment’.

Who is a master?

A master is a person who hires another person to work under his orders and supervision under certain terms and conditions.

Definition of Servant:

“A servant is anyone who works for another individual, the master, with or without pay. The master and servant relationship only arises when the tasks are performed by the servant under the direction and control of the master and are subject to the master’s knowledge and consent.”

A servant is a person employed by another to do work under the directions and control of his/her master. In general, a master is responsible for the torts of his servants, but not for the torts of independent contractors. As a result, it’s important to differentiate between the two.

Definition of Independent Contractor:

“A person who contracts to do work for another person according to his or her own processes and methods; the contractor is not subject to another’s control except for what is specified in a

mutually binding agreement for a specific job.”

Servant and Independent Contractor Distinguished

1.A servant works under the direction and control of his/her master as his agent/employee.An independent Contractor does not work under direction and control of any one, he is master of his own.
2.A servant is always bound to comply the orders of his master.On the other hand , an independent contractor is bound by the terms and conditions of his contract.
3.A servant is supposed to comply his master’s direction because he is employed by him.But an independent contractor is to exercise his own discretions as to the manner to complete the work.
4.A servant’s service is an integral part of the master’s business.An independent contractor’s service is an accessory part of the master’s business.
5.A master is liable for the torts of his servant.A master is not liable for the torts of an independent contractor.

For example: Mr. A appointed a driver (‘X’) to drive his car, and negligently the driver i.e. ‘X’ hits someone. Mr. A will be held liable in this case as ‘X’ is his servant. But on the other hand, if Mr. A hires a taxi to go somewhere and the taxi driver hits someone then Mr. A will not be held liable because the taxi driver is not his servant, he is an independent contractor.

For this doctrine to apply, A true master-servant and employer-employee relation must exist in order for a master and an employer to be held accountable for the servant’s and employee’s actions as if they were their own.


Scope of employment can be defined as the range of conduct and activity within which an employee can reasonably be considered to be carrying out the business of his or her employer.” Scope of employment refers to the activities which are done by the employees and these activities are the part of his job which he/she has been appointed to do by his/her master/employer. For the employer to be made liable, the employee’s act should fall within the scope of his/her employment and not outside the scope of employment.

For example: ‘P’ appointed a driver (‘Q’) to drive his own car. One day, ‘P’ asked his driver to drop him to his office and while driving the driver hit a pedestrian. In this illustration, ‘P’ was held liable for the acts of his servant as because the driver was within the scope of his employment. Even though the employee acts in a negligent way, the employer is still liable for the acts of his employee if it falls within the scope of his employment..


Kumari Smt. vs. State of Tamil Nadu and other, AIR 2069(1992).

FACTS: The appellant’s six-year-old son drowned after falling into a ten-foot-deep sewerage tank in Madras. The tank had no protective cover and was left exposed. The appellant petitioned the Madras High Court for a writ of mandamus ordering the respondents to pay the appellant Rs 50,000 in compensation. The petition was rejected by the High Court on the grounds that it was impossible to decide which of the respondents was incompetent in leaving the sewerage tank uncovered in the jurisdiction. Further, the Appellant went to the Supreme Court in present case

HELD: The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in overturning the Madras High Court’s ruling, stated that the Writ Court may use its writ authority under Article 226 of the Constitution to award compensation to victims who have suffered as a result of the State’s or its functionaries’ negligence. The SC correctly assessed the State’s  liability in this situation. In this case, the Supreme Court correctly decided the State’s liability and ordered the State to pay compensation.

Suman Panigrahi v. Board of Secondary Education, Odisha & Anr, LNIND 49 (2013 ).

FACTS: The petitioner, who comes from a poor background, took the Annual High School Certificate Examination in 2013, and was deemed a failure, with only 06 marks awarded to him in a mathematics paper. He also discovered that he received 412 out of 600 points. The Respondents given a revised mark sheet, with his marks in Mathematics response script increasing from 06 to 89, declaring the petitioner a 1st Division pass. The current writ petition seeks Rs.5 lakhs in damages for the petitioner’s shock, mental anguish, and abuse, as well as the loss of a valuable academic year.HELD: The complainant has the right to conduct his study in a dignified manner. The Board must ensure that students receive a dignified education. Since the examiners were hired by the Board, the legal maxim respondeat superior should apply, and the Board should be held responsible for the mistakes committed by both the examiners and the Examination Committee.


The doctrines are an integral aspect of every rule, and they aid in the resolution of cases in the most non-discriminatory way possible. The doctrine of Respondeat Superior has also evolved to address such issues in a way that maintains the element of fairness while taking into account the economic potential of the parties involved.

This doctrine is formed to administer and resolve disputes arising from the master-servant and employer-employee relationships, as well as to open up ways to avoid proceedings from being dragged out over the issue of subordinates receiving less pay. This doctrine ensures that the boss and masters’ superior status is not used to exploit the victim who has been harmed by the incompetence of the master and employers, servants, or staff.

As a result, it can be concluded that this doctrine is founded on the concept of vicarious liability and is used when one acts under the guidance and control of another and performs any negligent act harming another, liability can be placed on the individual in a superior position, and cases can be resolved with this doctrine in mind.

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