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Employees to hackers: The shades of blame in vicarious corporate liability

Leroy B Scott, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In contrast to the general practice in the United States legal system of imposing liability upon persons only for their own actions, vicarious liability allows liability to be imposed upon one person for the actions of another. Notwithstanding sharp criticisms of this type of liability due to its apparent unfairness and inconsistent application, it remains a highly utilized claim in lawsuits against businesses. Two studies were conducted to investigate victim likeability, outcome severity, and entitativity as explanations for the seemingly inconsistent application of vicarious liability by courts. In study one, state appellate court opinions were coded and analyzed. Results indicated that courts were more likely to decide in favor of vicarious liability claims when the victim was likeable or the outcome was severe. In study two, victim likeability, outcome severity, and entitativity were experimentally manipulated to examine their impacts on vicarious liability judgments. Results indicated that high victim likeability and high entitativity produced an increased propensity to assign vicarious liability. Overall, the results provided insight into how various psychological factors might have influenced legal decision making in a context that has perplexed legal scholars.

Subject Area

Law|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Scott, Leroy B, "Employees to hackers: The shades of blame in vicarious corporate liability" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10143326.