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Can you address "vicarious liability" in relation to the nursing manager role?

Tuesday January 14, 2003
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Can you address "vicarious liability" in relation to the nursing manager role? Can you provide examples of how vicarious liability has impacted a legal decision in nursing practice?Signed,Lynda


Dear Lynda,Vicarious liability is defined as an "indirect" form of liability. It is seen in tort law, including professional negligence, when someone or an entity is potentially responsible for the conduct of another when the conduct is within the scope of employment and the conduct causes injury or death. In addition, the person or entity must have control over the other person. Vicarious liability potentially applies, for example, when the employer is included in a lawsuit due to the conduct of an employee. Respondeat superior ("let the master answer") is the term used for this indirect form of liability.Respondeat superior is a theory of liability often used in professional negligence cases.  When a nurse employee is allegedly involved in a negligent act and a patient is allegedly injured as a result, the injured party will include the nurse providing the care in the suit. He or she will also include the employer, either under the theory of respondeat superior and/or the corporate (or institutional theory) of liability (see other responses in this column concerning professional negligence and liability). The purpose behind making the employer potentially responsible, albeit indirectly, for a patient injury is because the employer controls how the nurse is to conduct himself or herself as an employee providing patient care. This control is established through the employer's adopted polices and procedures governing patient care and its policies and procedures governing the parameters of the employer-employee relationship.A nurse manager's liability for any alleged injuries to a patient rests upon his or her own personal or individual liability under a professional negligence analysis, just as the nurse's liability who provided the care to the patient. Vicarious liability does not apply to either the nurse or the nurse manager because neither is the employer of the other.Vicarious liability has impacted legal decisions involving nursing practice in almost every instance in which a nurse or nurse manager is employed by a healthcare facility, the nurse and/or nurse manager is allegedly professionally negligent, and as a result a patient injury occurs. One can read about specific cases and the application of this doctrine by reviewing nursing texts on law and nursing practice and through journal articles, either in the journal itself or through the journal's online service.Sincerely, Nancy