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Vicarious Liability

Physicians are legally responsible for the actions of nonphysician personnel acting under their supervision. This is termed vicarious liability. (See Chapter 15.) In general, employers are responsible for the actions of their employees. This is respondeat superior, or the master-servant relationship, a term that dates the origins of the concept. The employer is responsible for the actions of the employee that are in the course and scope of the employment. This rule poses two questions, Who is an employee? and What is the course and scope of employment?

While it is commonly assumed that employment status is determined by how a person is paid, this is only one of several factors that are considered. Even unpaid volunteer workers may be classified as employees for the purpose of vicarious liability. The usual focus is on payment because most disputes about employment status involve the tax laws rather than the tort laws. The whole work situation is considered when determining whether there is vicarious liability for a person's actions.

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