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Minneapolis Personal Injury Lawyer

Why Is Vicarious Liability Important In Minnesota?

Auto Accident Lawyer

Nationwide, over one driver in ten has no auto insurance. Moreover, the Gopher State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. So, thousands of other drivers are dangerously underinsured. If either uninsured or underinsured drivers cause car accidents, these victims often have a hard time obtaining fair compensation.

Fortunately, Minnesota also has some of the strongest third party liability rules in the country. Doctrines like respondeat superior often give victims an additional source of financial compensation. Moreover, vicarious liability addresses the underlying cause of the car crash and helps to prevent future incidents.

Employer Liability in Minneapolis

Respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) is the most commonly-used employer liability theory in Minnesota, perhaps because it is the broadest. Employers are liable for the negligent acts of their workers if:

  • Employee: An “employee” is not simply someone who gets a regular paycheck and an annual W-2. Instead, according to the Department of Labor, an employee is anyone that the employer “suffer[s] or permit[s] to work.” That definition could include independent contractors, owner-operators, unpaid volunteers, and any other worker that the employer controls to some extent.
  • Scope of Employment: Likewise, any act that benefits the employer in any way falls within the scope of employment. A writer working at a desk is within the scope of employment. The same goes for a writer who drives a car with the company logo on a daily errand.

Respondeat superior only applies to negligent acts, like car crashes. It does not apply to intentional torts, such as assaults. Such acts are clearly not within the scope of employment. Other employer liability theories may be available in these cases. Negligent hiring and negligent supervision are the most prominent ones.

Owner Liability in Minnesota

If vehicle owners knowingly allow incompetent drivers to operate their vehicles, the owners are responsible for damages. Typically, a person is incompetent if that individual:

  • Has not been issued a drivers’ license in Minnesota or any other American state,
  • Does not have a valid drivers’ license due to a safety suspension or revocation,
  • Operates a vehicle in violation of a license restriction (g. no freeway driving), or
  • Has a poor driving record.

In that last instance, the victim/plaintiff must establish that the owner knew about the poor driving record.

Because of the Graves Amendment, commercial negligent entrustment cases are a little different. Commercial owners are immune from liability if they were not otherwise negligent and they were in the trade or business of renting vehicles. These phrases are very specific and do not apply to very many cases.

Alcohol Provider Liability in Minnesota

Under intense pressure from restaurant lobbying groups, many states have abandoned their dram shop laws. But Minnesota has one of the most stringent such laws in the country. Commercial alcohol providers are liable for the damages that their intoxicated patrons negligently cause if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was:

  • Under 21, or
  • Obviously intoxicated at the time of sale.

The dram shop law applies to packaged alcohol sales as well. It is foreseeable that a person may open a can of beer and drink it on the way home.

Minnesota’s dram shop law only applies to commercial sales. Party hosts and noncommercial providers may be responsible for third party damages as well, under a theory like negligent entrustment or negligent undertaking.

Work With an Experienced Attorney

The tortfeasor may not be the only person responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Minnesota, contact the Gunther Law Office. We do not charge upfront legal fees in car crash cases.


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