SW Legal studies in Business

Vicarious Liability Not Liability of a Joint Tortfeasor
Description The Oklahoma high court held that when the victim of a tort released the tortfeasor from liability, parties who could have been vicariously liable were also released from liability. Vicarious liability does not mean one is a joint tortfeasor who remains liable despite the release of another tortfeasor.
Topic Torts
Key Words Joint Tortfeasors; Vicarious Liability; Contribution; Release
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Burke was injured when riding with a youth group in rented boat that was involved in a collision. He settled his claim against the youth group and the boat operator, thereby releasing them from further liability for the accident. He then sued the boat owner. An Oklahoma statute states: "The owner of a vessel shall be liable for any injury or damage occasioned by the negligent operation of such vessel." The trial court dismissed the suit; Burke appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Vicarious liability is imposed by law when one person is made answerable for the conduct of another; the liability is not the result of fault, but a matter of allocation of risk. Hence, any liability on the part of the boat owner is vicarious. The release of the boat operator by Burke also served as a release of the boat owner from vicarious liability. The boat owner could not be liable as a tortfeasor because of vicarious liability. Once the boat operator was released from liability; the owner's liability ended.

Citation Burke v. Webb Boats, Inc., 37 P.3d 811 (Sup. Ct., Okla., 2001)

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