Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Respondeat superior Definition:

Latin: let the principal answer.

A principle of agency law which holds that a principal (or employer) is vicariously liable (also known as derivative liability) for the torts of his agent (or employee) which occur during the course of the agent's (or employee's) actions on behalf of the principal (or employer).

It is generally limited in its application to the relation of employer and employee, or of principal and agent as in Pennsylvania v International Union of Operating Engineers, the US District Court wrote (1978), in reference to the related term respondent superior:

"Respondeat superior, a doctrine centuries old, is predicated on the assumption that a master, employer, or principal will be held responsible for the acts of a servant, employee, or agent respectively. The rationale for this view is succinctly expressed by the maxim qui facit per alium facit per se."

As stated in American Federation v. Equitable Life, re employees:

"For respondeat superior liability to attach, the employee must have breached his duty to a third party while acting in the course and scope of his employment."

It is often used to refer to a relationship between a purported principal and agent, as in a "respondeat superior relationship".

References and Further Reading:

  • American Federation v. Equitable Life, 841 F.2d 658
  • Pennsylvania v International Union of Operating Engineers, 469 F. Supp. 329

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