Vicarious Liability under India Laws

Vicarious Liability under Indian Laws: All You Need To Know

This article on ‘Vicarious Liability under Indian Laws: All You Need To Know‘ was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.


This article deals with the concept of vicarious liability under Indian laws. It discusses the meaning of the term, legal maxims that are related to the same, essentials or prerequisites. It also discusses the reason why a master is held liable for the acts of the servants, the Indian scenario and finally important case laws.

What is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability can be described as the liability borne by the supervisory authority for the actions done by their employees. It is a kind of master-servant relationship where a wrong done by the servant under the course of the employment has consequences on the master. 

Examples of vicarious relationships are:-

  • Principal and agent
  • Master and servant
  • Partnership firms and associations


A is working as a house staff for B. In this scenario, A is the servant whereas B is the master. One day, B sends A to buy some medicines in a hurry, A rushes to the pharmacy and while coming back he causes an accident and two people lose their lives. In this case, B would be held responsible for the actions of A as the accident occurred during the course of the employment.

Essentials of Vicarious Liability

These are the following prerequisites for establishing vicarious liability:-

  • There must exist a relationship between a superior authority and an inferior authority. 
  • A wrongful act was committed while under the supervision of the superior authority.

Why is the Master held liable?

The reasons behind holding the master liable for the acts of his servants are:–

  • Since the master is dictating the actions of the servant, it is only common knowledge that the servant would not be held liable for the act done.
  • It is reasonably possible that the master can use their position and wealth to exploit the servant. Since the master is in a better financial situation they would be able to incur the losses which might not be the case if the servant is held liable.
  • Since the fruits of the servant’s hard work are enjoyed by the master it is only fair that the liability of the wrong committed shall be incurred by the master as well.

Legal Maxims

  1. Qui facit per alium facit per se is a Latin maxim that translates to “He who acts through another does the act himself”. It essentially means that if one asks another person to do an act, such action would be considered to be done by the first person.
  2. Respondent Superior this legal maxim also means the same as the superior would be held responsible for the acts done by the subordinate.
Vicarious Liability under India Laws
Vicarious Liability under India Laws

Vicarious Liability under India Laws

Usually, the principle of vicarious liability is applied to civil cases only but under certain circumstances, it can be applied to criminal cases as well. 

Indian Penal Code:-

  • Section 149 says that if a member of an illegal assembly commits an offence then the whole assembly will be guilty of that offence.
  • Section 154 talks about the refusal to provide information on a riot or other disturbance by the landowner or occupant.
  • Section 155 and section 156 say that if an illegal gathering is conducted then the owners of such land would be held vicariously liable.
  • Section 268, section 269 and section 499 talk about public nuisance. It essentially says that a master would be held vicariously liable for a public disturbance caused by a servant.

Exceptions to Vicarious Liability:-

  • If the act was done by an agent who is not appointed by the principal.
  • If the act was done by an independent contractor.
  • If the act was done by a person after the termination of the contract of the agency.

Case Laws

  • In the State of Rajasthan vs. Smt Shekhu and ors, the deceased and his brother were on a bicycle when the District Collector’s jeep collided with them which caused the death of the party. The court applied the principle of ‘vicarious liability’ where the owner of the car that is the District Collector was held liable for the accident caused by his servant during the course of his employment. 
  • In Superintendent and Remembrance of Legal Affairs, West Bengal v. Corporation of Calcutta, the Court decided that the premise that the State is not bound by any laws is no longer the law of the land after the Constitution’s enactment. Laws governing civil and criminal cases now apply to both the people and the State equally. 
  • In Saheli v. Commissioner of Police, the police caused the death of a 9-year-old child and for this, the State was held responsible and the Delhi Administration was called upon to pay a sum of rupees 75,000/- as compensation. This case saw the revival of the Vidhyawati ratio and the compensation was paid by recovering money from the police officers who were responsible for such a heinous act.
  • In Bhim Singh v. State Of Jammu And Kashmir, the court awarded a sum of rupees 50,000/- to the victim due to the liability of the police.
  • In the case of the State of Madhya Pradesh vs. Chironji Lal, a question was raised which dwelled upon whether damages caused by an unwarranted lathi charge by the police would attract vicarious liability. It was held that the function of the State is to regulate and maintain law and order and hence the plaintiff’s claim for compensation was rejected by the court.


From the above article, it could be understood that vicarious liability holds the master or the supervisory authority accountable for the actions of the servant or the inferior authority. This does not in any sense make an unlawful act of the servant excusable; they will be held liable and not the master. This puts in perspective that the master is held liable only for the actions that are committed by the law and during the course of the employment. It should be noted that the concept of vicarious liability has risen through judicial pronouncements, there are only a few areas where vicarious liability is explicitly mentioned.