Vicarious Liability Laws in Colorado

Vicarious liability in Colorado is a legal doctrine that says a person can be held indirectly liable for an accident, even when he or she did not cause it. A person who is "vicariously liable" may be responsible for a person's:

  • medical bills;
  • lost wages;
  • pain and suffering; and
  • other damages resulting from a successful personal injury lawsuit.

Respondeat Superior

Respondeat Superior is a legal term that means a person is responsible for the acts of his or her "agents" or employees. If a certain legal relationship exists between two or more parties:

  • one party (person or entity) may be responsible for the actions or inactions of the other party
  • that led to an injury to another person
  • even when that person or business is not directly responsible.

There must be a legal reason why it is appropriate to hold a third party responsible for injuries caused by another party.

Types of Vicarious Liability Relationships

Certain types of relationships commonly result in responsibility for a third party's negligence.

  • Employer/Employee: An employer is often responsible for the actions of its employees when certain conditions are met. Employers are not always responsible, and there are exceptions to liability even when the employee is "on the clock."
  • Parents/Children: In many cases, parents are responsible for the negligent conduct of their minor children. Parents are considered separately responsible for how their children act, behave, and the injuries they may cause to others.
  • Car Owners: Owners of cars or other motor vehicles may be held responsible for the actions of others who drive their vehicles if certain legal conditions are met. If a person negligently entrusts a vehicle to an unqualified or unsafe driver and knows this, he or she may be held responsible for the other person's actions and the injuries caused to third parties.
  • Business Associates: Owners of a business, like shareholders, partners, or other forms of co-owners, may be held responsible for the actions of the other co-owners because the injury caused by the "business" can be held against all of the owners.
  • Co-conspirators: This tends to happen when two or more people participate in a crime together. Co-conspirators can be held responsible for the actions of their "partners in crime."

Below, our Colorado personal injury attorneys address frequently asked questions about vicarious liability in personal injury lawsuits and the injuries you may have suffered:

Premises 20liability 20leaves 20fall 20ss

1. What is vicarious liability in Colorado?

Vicarious liability in Colorado is a legal doctrine stating a person can be held indirectly liable for an accident, even when he or she did not cause it. 1

A person who is "vicariously liable" may be responsible for a person's:

  • medical bills;
  • lost wages;
  • pain and suffering; and
  • other damages which result from a successful personal injury lawsuit.

1.1 Can I hold another person directly responsible for my injuries, even when he or she had nothing to do with the accident?

It is possible. If the parties had a certain type of legal relationship with one another, it may be possible to sue the third party for the actions of the person who caused the actual injuries.

1.2 Why does this doctrine exist in Colorado?

Vicarious liability is designed to ensure that people who are injured have different sources of possible recovery, when it is appropriate to hold a third party responsible.

It is not every case where vicarious liability will apply, but Colorado law seeks to protect those who are injured because of another person's negligence.

2. What is respondeat superior?

Respondeat Superior is a legal term which means that a person is responsible for the acts of his or her "agents" or employees. If a certain legal relationship exists between two or more parties:

  • one party (person or entity) may be responsible for the actions or inactions of the other party
  • that led to an injury to another person
  • even when that person or business is not directly responsible.

There must be a legal reason why it is appropriate to hold a third party responsible for injuries caused by another.

3. When is an employer responsible for the negligence of its employees?

Certain factors must be met before an employer will be held responsible for the acts of its employees through vicarious liability. When these factors are met, an injured person may go after both the employee and the employer. These factors are:

  • a master and servant relationship exists; and
  • the employee acted within the course and scope of his or her employment.

3.1 What is a "master and servant" relationship?

For an employer to be held responsible for the acts of its employee, a "master and servant" relationship must exist. This particular language comes from many years of legal doctrine, but it basically means that the employer has control over the employee.

Colorado courts look to certain factors when determining if a "master and servant" relationship exists. These factors include whether or not the employer has:

  • control over the employee;
  • the right to hire and fire the employee;
  • the right to assign certain hours and locations for work;
  • the right to specify how work is performed; and
  • a certain amount of direction over the employee's duties.3

Overall, it comes down to how much control the employer has over the employee.4

3.2 What is the course and scope of employment?

For an employer to be held liable, the employee must be acting within the course and scope of his or her employment.

Factors the court or jury considers to determine whether or not actions were within the course and scope of employment include:

  • whether or not the actions were connected to the employer's business;
  • whether or not the actions were for the purpose of furthering the employer's interest;
  • whether or not the negligence occurred during work hours;
  • whether or not the employer was engaging in activities that were normally a part of his or her job at the time of the negligence; and
  • whether or not the employee was acting for personal reasons rather than business reasons.5

3.3 Are there exceptions to the course and scope of employment?

Certain types of actions are outside the course and scope of an employee's employment, including but not limited to the following acts:

  • Frolics: A frolic is when an employee goes off on his or her own to do something that has nothing to do with his or her employment. This could include heading to a baseball game during work hours without the permission or direction of the employer.
  • Detour: Similar to a frolic, a detour is when an employer temporarily acts outside of the course and scope of employment and causes harm. The classic case is when an employee goes to get coffee and causes an accident while heading there. The action may still be connected enough to the work day, or it may be sufficiently independent that the employer will not be held liable.
  • Intentional Torts: If an employee commits an intentional tort that is not related to his or her employment, the employer is less likely to be held vicariously liable. For example, if an employee gets angry at a customer and punches him, the employer may not be held responsible.6

4. When is a parent responsible for the acts of his or her children?

A parent can be responsible for the acts of his or her children under certain circumstances. A parent will be held liable for the acts of the child when:

  • the child had a propensity to commit the particular type of action that caused the damage;
  • the parent knew of the child's propensities; and
  • the parent failed to restrain the child from committing the act that caused the harm.7

In Colorado, a parent is considered to be independently responsible for the acts of his or her child under these circumstances.8

5. When are car owners responsible for the acts of other drivers?

If a person loans his or her car out to another person, the owner of the vehicle may be responsible for the negligent acts of the driver.

This is especially true when a driver negligently entrusts his or her vehicle to a person he or she knows to be an unsafe driver or knows to be unqualified to drive.

6. When are business associates held responsible for another associate's actions?

Business associates who work together as co-owners of a business may be held legally responsible for the acts of other co-owners. This is especially true when a co-owner conducts an act as part of the business or in furtherance of the business's interests and harms another person as a result of the action.

7. When are co-conspirators responsible for the acts of each other?

When two or more people engage in a conspiracy to commit some criminal act or civil tort against another person(s) or entity, they may be held responsible for each other's actions.

Because each person was a part of the plan to commit the wrong, it is no defense that only one person actually caused the harm. Each of the co-conspirators are likely to be held responsible.

8. If multiple people are held responsible, who do I get my damages from?

If multiple parties are held responsible for the harm that resulted from the negligence, the person harmed (the plaintiff) is allowed to seek recovery from all parties who are responsible.

An injured person is only allowed to collect the award one time, but it may be from one party or all parties.9

Example: Ross is injured when Rachel, a flower delivery driver, rear-ended him. Ross sues both Rachel and her employer for negligence in a personal injury case. After trial, he is awarded $250,000. He can collect from either Rachel, her employer, or both. However, she can only collect up to a total of $250,000 (not $250,000 from each party).

Operators receptionists call us ss

Call us for help...

For questions about vicarious liability cases in Colorado or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. West's Colorado Practice Series, 1 COPRAC 14:2 (Vicarious Liability). (Vicarious liability is legal responsibility by virtue of a legal relationship. The doctrine of vicarious liability allows the negligence of the actual wrongdoer to be imputed to another who has no active participation in the tort.1 For example, a principal is generally liable for the negligence of his agent and an employer for the negligence of his employee.)
  2. West's Colorado Practice Series, 16 COPRAC 15:6 (Joint Liability between employers and employees).
  3. West's Colorado Practice Series, 7 COPRAC 14:3 (Employees, servants, and agents--Existence of master servant relationship).
  4. Id. (The issue of control is a crucial factor in determining whether there is a master-servant relationship).
  5. West's Colorado Practice Series, 7 COPRAC 14:4 (Employees, servants, and agents--course and scope of employment).
  6. Id. (A master can usually avoid liability for the intentional torts of his servant because that conduct is normally outside the scope of employment. Where the intentional tort occurs for the purpose of furthering the master's business, however, the action could be within the scope of the employment.)
  7. West's Colorado Practice Series, 7 COPRAC 14:21. (Parental liability for child-negligence of parent).
  8. Id (In these situations, a parent will be independently liable for the child's tort and not vicariously liable); see also Horton v. Reaves, 186 Colo. 149, 526 P.2d 304 (1974).
  9. West's Colorado Practice Series, 16 COPRAC 15:6. (Joint liability between employers and employees) (Where an employer, as principal, is vicariously liable for the tort of its employee, acting as the employer's agent, a tort victim may proceed against either the principal on the basis of vicarious liability, the agent for the agent's direct liability, or against both the agent and the principal. Regardless, there may be only one satisfaction of judgment based on the victim's injuries.)

Free attorney consultations...

The attorneys at Shouse Law Group bring more than 100 years collective experience fighting for individuals. We're ready to fight for you. Call us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 855-LAW-FIRM for a free case evaluation.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370