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Vicarious liability is liability which the law places on someone because of their relationship to the bad actor. The basic rationale is that when a bad actor is working for another within the course and scope of his employment, then the employer is benefitting from the bad actor’s conduct and has to take the good with the bad.

In most cases, the employer is not responsible for the conduct of an independent contractor. Employees are subject to the employer’s control over how the work is done, among other things, while independent contractors are generally free to accomplish the work as they see fit. The employer’s liability for employee’s conduct is sometimes referred to as respondeat superior. Oregon courts have even found employers liable for some intentional torts (employee stabbed and killed someone) if they are tied closely enough to the employee’s duties.

The Family Purpose Doctrine is also a form of vicarious liability. It developed because of problems arising from auto insurance in the mid 20th century. A family would have a car for the parents with relatively high coverage limits, and have a car for the kids with relatively low coverage limits because insuring teenagers is expensive. The teenager would get into a wreck and the insurance company would only pay out on the lower coverage limits. What the family purpose doctrine says is that the higher limits of the parents’ insurance coverage is available for the kids car when the kids car is furnished for the pleasure and convenience of the family, i.e. for a family purpose. Sometimes there will be questions of fact about whether the vehicle was provided for a family purpose, for example, one Oregon court found that a jury trial was needed to resolve that issue where the insured’s daughter’s fiancee was the bad actor.

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