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Tort Liability

15 January, 2016 - 09:35

That a principal is held vicariously liable and must pay damages to an injured third person does not excuse the agent who actually committed the tortious acts. A person is always liable for his or her own torts (unless the person is insane, involuntarily intoxicated, or acting under extreme duress). The agent is personally liable for his wrongful acts and must reimburse the principal for any damages the principal was forced to pay, as long as the principal did not authorize the wrongful conduct. The agent directed to commit a tort remains liable for his own conduct but is not obliged to repay the principal. Liability as an agent can be burdensome, sometimes perhaps more burdensome than as a principal. The latter normally purchases insurance to cover against wrongful acts of agents, but liability insurance policies frequently do not cover the employee’s personal liability if the employee is named in a lawsuit individually. Thus doctors’ and hospitals’ malpractice policies protect a doctor from both her own mistakes and those of nurses and others that the doctor would be responsible for; nurses, however, might need their own coverage. In the absence of insurance, an agent is at serious risk in this lawsuit-conscious age. The risk is not total. The agent is not liable for torts of other agents unless he is personally at fault—for example, by negligently supervising a junior or by giving faulty instructions. For example, an agent, the general manager for a principal, hires Brown as a subordinate. Brown is competent to do the job but by failing to exercise proper control over a machine negligently injures Ted, a visitor to the premises. The principal and Brown are liable to Ted, but the agent is not.