Business vs. Owner vs. Employee Liability for Personal Injury

Who is held responsible (at fault) in a lawsuit for a personal injury that occurred in a business?

If a business is legally responsible for causing your injury -- or the underlying accident that led to your injury -- you can usually file an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the business. You may also, depending on the business structure, be able to sue the owner(s) as well. In rare cases, you may have a claim against the specific employee(s) who caused you injury. Read on to learn more about injury claims against a business. 

Remember: Injury Generally Requires Fault

At the outset, bear in mind that except for certain limited categories or classes of cases, liability -- whic triggers the legal obligation to pay -- depends on fault or wrong doing. That means that typically, either someone acted negligently (unreasonably carelessly) or intentionally wrongfully. Without proving fault, the fact that you’re injured is usually not enough, in and of itself, to impose an obligation to pay compensation.

(The main category of cases where fault is not generally a requirement: product liability. So if you were injured by a defectively designed or manufactured product -- or one which had deficient safety warnings -- that defect or deficiency itself will usually establish liability.)

Businesses are Liable for The Acts of Their Employees in the Course of Business

Under the legal theories of agency liability and respondeat superior, an employer is responsible for the acts of its employees, when those acts are done in the course of employment.

So, if the employee would liable for injuring you -- i.e. if you could sue the employee -- the employer will usually be responsible, too. The main limitation is “in the course of business.” So, for example, if you are hit by a delivery truck making its rounds, or injured by roofing tile dropped by a roofer, that’s an injury caused by someone as they were doing their job and their employer may be liable.

On the other hand, if after his shift ends, a store clerk happens to get into a fight with you in the mall parking lot, the store would not be liable -- the clerk is doing something (fighting) that is not part of his job, is on his own time, and is not in his employer’s premises.

However, to the extent that an injury was caused by an employee in the course of employment, you can sue the employer as well as the employee.

If It’s Not an LLC or a Corporation, You May be Able to Sue the Owner(s) Personally

One of the most important -- if not the most important -- purposes of a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation (inc.) is to shield the owners from business-related liability. If a business is an LLC or corporation, except in very rare, very special circumstances, you can’t sue the owners personally for any wrongs the business committed.

However, if the business is a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you may well be able to sue the owner(s) personally, alongside suing their business. This is advantageous, since the more people or entities you can sue, the greater your chance of collecting a judgment or settlement.

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