What Is the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior?

The legal doctrine of "respondeat superior" is a concept in tort law when a court system holds an employer legally responsible for the acts of an employee if negligence occurs within the scope of the employee's work, according to Cornell University's Legal Information Institute. A 2002 article in the Southern Medical Journal reveals that a health care provider may be held negligent, rather than a doctor, in some circumstances.

The concept of respondeat superior is sometimes difficult to assess in a court of law. SMJ explains a doctor who is negligent while acting under a health care provider's guidelines may not be entirely negligent. A doctor or health care provider may even be found negligent after a negative medical outcome caused by a previous medical provider. If it is proven that a provider exercises control over a doctor's methods and means of work, respondeat superior rests with the doctor's employers.

Personal injury attorney Colin E. Flora of Pavlack Law LLC explains four criteria are generally used to ascertain whether or not someone acts "within the scope of employment." An employee's conduct must be similar to that which the employee was hired to do. The person's actions are within the spatial and temporal limits of employment. Actions further an employer's business. Certain conduct is expected based upon the employee's duties. In simpler terms, the employee should be on the clock, at the employer's facility and acting within the regulations and guidelines of the employer to be within the scope of employment.