Canoga Park, CA asked in Business Law for California

Q: Should respondeat superior apply to a principal’s liability for torts committed by independent contractors?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Dan Robinson
Dan Robinson
  • Ventura, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: It depends. I have sued a property owner for damage caused by its contractor. But it's unlikely that respondeat superior will apply. A principal can instead be held liable based on its own negligence in hiring, instructing, equipping, or directing the contractor.

But there's a twist: as you may know, California recently tightened the definition of who can be considered an independent contractor as opposed to an employee in AB5. So the first question is: is the contractor really a contractor? Or is he or she an employee? Employers can generally be sued on a respondeat superior theory.

The other key thing to look at is the contract between the principal and the contractor. It will often spell out specifically who is liable for what types of damage. It may also require one party to indemnify the other party for certain types of lawsuits.

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