Vicarious Liability Essay -1187 Words - Essay Prowess

Vicarious Liability Essay -1187 Words


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Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is considered as secondary liability, whereby in a person is under law held liable for commissions or omissions of some other individual (Clarke, 2013). Vicarious liability is commonly exercised in legal action cases where employers are held fully responsible for the actions of employees at the workplace which lead plaintiffs to seek legal remedy. Under vicarious liability, third parties such as contractors also subject organizations with whom they have legally binding obligations to liability for harm caused to an individual provided that such a contractor is perceived under law to be under the authority of the organization.

In most cases employers tend to be unaware of the liability accruing to them as a result of the commissions or omissions committed by employee during the dispensation of the contractual obligations to the employer (Clarke, 2013). The core aspects considered by the courts in such an incidence is the issue as to whether such an employee acted in a personal capacity or during the dispensation of obligations contained in the employment contract. Employers are therefore personally responsible towards ensuring every reasonable precaution is taken to prevent vicarious liability from accruing to them.

Corporate liability on the other hand relates to legal responsibility accruing to an organization as a result commissions or omissions which translate to criminal activities committed by its employees (Clarke, 2013). If such acts are committed or omitted to benefit an organization through negligence or as a result of irresponsible management, then   such an organization is liable for prosecution.

This is due to the fact that laws, regulations, statutes as well as organizational procedures and policies require organizations accord the general public definite degrees of care (Clarke, 2013). Corporate liability is as a result of corporate negligence and differs from vicarious liability such that it cannot be attached to the actions or omissions of the employees. However, the court process requires that both the employer and the employee identified with committing such commissions or omissions be represented as defendants.

In Norton v. Argonaut Insurance Co., the plaintiffs, namely Mr. and Mrs. Glynace H. Norton suffered the untimely death of their baby Robyn Bernice Norton on the 2nd of January 1960 ( 2014). The couple had taken their daughter to Baton Rouge General Hospital as recommended by the infant’s pediatrician Dr. Charles N. Bombet. Dr. Bombet had been supervising the infant’s development since two months after she was born. Baby Norton had been born healthy but after two months was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition. The pediatrician consulted with two specialist doctors, a cardiologist and a heart surgeon and the trio agreed that heart surgery was necessary to correct the infant’s condition ( 2014). This was however to be done after further medical examinations and tests were conducted under the supervision of Dr. Bombet.

On the 15th of December  1959, Dr. Stotler, the cardiologist entered into the prescribed order sheet that among other drugs, Elixir Pediatric Lanoxin 2.5 cc (0.125 mg) q6h X 3 ( 2014). This medicine was to be administered every six hours for the first day and in the days that followed the infant was to be given Elixir Pediatric Lanoxin 2.5 cc (0.125 mg) q6h once daily.

Laxonin was considered by the medical profession a poisonous drug when taken in doses that exceed the doctor’s recommendation. Dr. Bombet was aware that Laxonin was a derivate of digitalis and was potent enough to cause fatalities if administered in excess of the prescribed dosage ( 2014). Lanoxin could be administered in either of three forms, oral administration as an alcohol solution or elixir; as a tablet also administered orally or as an injectible solution via hypodermic needle or through an intra muscular injection.

After Dr. Bombet re-examined the infant on the 28th of December in 1959, he was of the view that the child was progressing poorly. He recommended that the baby be brought back to the hospital for readmission and this was effected the following day ( 2014). Doctor Stotler while making his normal rounds in the hospital examined the infant and entered instructions on the child’s hospital chart which included diet and medication to be followed by the hospital staff in caring for the child. Mrs. Norton, the infant’s mother had been administering Lanoxin to her daughter but since the doctor saw the need to increase the dosage of Lanoxin and informed her accordingly that the dosage for that day was to be increased to 3.0cc ( 2014). He also informed the medical staff of this change and expected them to administer the dosage that very day. On the fateful day, he recorded on the doctors order sheet, “Give 3.0 cc Lanoxin today for 1 dose only” ( 2014). The fact that both the hospital staff and the infant’s mother had been notified of the changes effected, there was the chance that the dosage could be administered twice. This is exactly what transpired and the infant died of an overdose when Mrs Evans a nurse administered the drug in line with Dr. Stotler’s recommendations.

The defendants in this case were Argonaut Insurance Company, liability insurer of the Baton Rouge General Hospital; Mrs. Florence Evans, the Registered Nurse who administered the fatal hypodermic; and Aetna Casualty & Surety Company, liability insurer of Dr. John B. Stotler, the attending physician who issued the order for the medication administered by Mrs. Evans ( 2014).

As the chief of staff at Baton Rouge General Hospital, there are a number of steps that I can institute to ensure that this incidence does not recur. Firstly, medical only staffs at the facility are supposed to accord medical care to patients (Dollinger & Dollinger, 2012). Secondly, a doctor in charge of the patient is the only one obligated to make changes in the patient’s medical chart unless otherwise communicated. Thirdly, if another doctor notes severe changes in a patient’s health condition, she or he should consult with the doctor in charge of the patient prior to communicating changes to the patient’s medical chart (Dollinger & Dollinger, 2012). Lastly, the medical chart should indicate whether medicine has been administered and the nurse responsible should sign as having administered the medication.

This case occurred more than a decade ago and as such there has been much progress in healthcare provision. For instance, technology has enabled interactive consultation among doctors and other medical professionals so that necessary changes are communicated and confirmed in real time (Dollinger & Dollinger, 2012). In hospitals there is a reception desk where all records are kept and a database registers healthcare provision such that double dosages are not administered.

In the case of Norton v. Argonaut Insurance Co., the court decided that pretermitting the situation resulting from charitable immunity that the Baton Rouge General Hospital was responsible its employee’s negligence as provided for in the doctrine of respondent superior. The hospital was thus under vicarious liability for harm caused to the plaintiff.


Clarke, M. A. (2013). Law of Liability Insurance. Florida: CRC Press.

Dollinger, M. L., & Dollinger, R. A. (2012). A New Legal Interpretation of Duty for Registered Nurses. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 3(1), 21-25.

Staunton, P., & Chiarella, M. (2012). Law for nurses and midwives. Sidney: Elsevier Australia. (2014). Norton V. Argonaut Insurance Company. Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit. June 29, 1962. Retrieved on Jun 16, 2014 from

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