Vicarious liability and professional indemnity insurance

Vicarious Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance

Written by Simon Taylor


Vicarious liability is a legal principle that holds one party responsible for the actions or negligence of another party

Typically, one party has some form of control or authority over the actions of another party, whose conduct led to the harm or damage. This principle is often applied in employer-employee relationships. However, it can still apply under a contractual relationship, such as principal-agent relationships or contracts for services.

Employer-Employee Relationship:

If an employee commits a tort (civil wrong) while acting within the scope of their employment, the employer may be held vicariously liable for the employee's actions, even if the employer did not directly participate in or condone the wrongful conduct. The rationale behind vicarious liability is that the employer or superior party benefits from the actions of the agent or employee and should therefore bear some responsibility for their actions.

Principal-Agent Relationship:

In situations where one party (the principal) hires another party (the agent) to act on their behalf, the principal may be held vicariously liable for the actions of the agent. This is because the agent is acting as an extension of the principal, carrying out tasks or making decisions on their behalf. If the agent's actions result in harm or damage to a third party, the principal could be held responsible.

Contracts for Services:

When a party contracts with another to perform services on their behalf, vicarious liability may arise if the contracted party's actions result in harm. Even though the contracted party may not be an employee, if they are acting within the scope of the contract and under the direction or control of the contracting party, the latter may be held vicariously liable for any resulting harm.

Professional Indemnity Insurance

Professional indemnity insurance typically covers claims arising from  negligence, errors, or omissions committed by the insured party in the course of providing a professional service. It's essential to ensure that the policy's coverage is broad enough to encompass potential vicarious liability claims arising from the actions of employees, subcontractors, or agents acting on behalf of the insured.

Businesses can effectively manage the risk of vicarious liability by ensuring that their professional indemnity insurance provides comprehensive protection. If you are unsure whether your coverage is adequate, ask your insurance broker for clarrification to ensure your covered for the actions of employees and subcontractors.

Why professional indemnity insurance is important to cover vicarious liability:

TIt's important to regularly review and update your professional indemnity coverage to reflect changes in business operations, contractual relationships, and regulatory requirements. Ensure that your insurance remains adequate and appropriate to address potential vicarious liability exposures.


Financial Protection:

Vicarious liability can result in significant financial obligations for the party held responsible. Insurance coverage helps mitigate the financial risk associated with potential legal claims and damages. Without insurance, a business or individual may have to pay out of pocket for legal defense costs, settlements, or judgments, which could be financially devastating.

Risk Management:

Insurance policies tailored to cover vicarious liability provide a proactive approach to risk management. By transferring the risk of potential liabilities to an insurance provider, businesses and individuals can focus on their core operations without constantly worrying about the possibility of expensive legal claims.

Compliance and Contracts:

Many contracts, especially those involving commercial agreements, require parties to carry certain types of insurance coverage, including liability insurance. Having insurance in place to cover vicarious liability ensures compliance with contractual obligations and may be a prerequisite for entering into certain business relationships.

Protecting Assets:

Without insurance coverage for vicarious liability, individuals and businesses risk having their personal or business assets seized to satisfy legal judgments or settlements. Insurance helps protect these assets by providing a source of funds to cover liabilities, reducing the financial risk.

Maintaining Reputation:

Legal disputes and negative publicity resulting from vicarious liability claims can damage a business's reputation and erode customer trust. Having insurance coverage demonstrates a commitment to responsible risk management and may help preserve goodwill with customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

Peace of Mind:

Knowing that insurance coverage is in place to address vicarious liability concerns provides peace of mind to businesses and individuals. It allows them to focus on their day-to-day operations and pursue growth opportunities without constant worry about the potential financial consequences of legal claims.

Who needs PI Insurance?

Technology E&O Insurance

General Liability Insurance

Cyber Insurance

Directors Insurance


About the author

Simon Taylor is a respected senior industry professional and a Chartered Insurance Broker with over 20 years’ of experience in the commercial insurance sector as an underwriter, broker and director.