Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine under which organizations or employers can be held accountable for negligent conduct. In some circumstances, courts have found that the employer can also be legally liable for the employee’s intentional misconduct. The possibility of vicarious liability is in theory designed to act as a deterrent so as to ensure employers put in place systems to prevent wrongdoing.
Specifically in relation to sexual assault and abuse, employers have been held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
Recently, the Superior Court of Ontario found the Trillium Lakeland District School Board vicariously liable for the sexual abuse of a student in the 1980s by the student’s music teacher. The former teacher, Royce Galon Williamson, was found liable for the torts of sexual assault and sexual battery. Both Williamson and the school board were found to have breached their fiduciary duties to the student. The Court ordered them to jointly pay more than $500,000 in damages. Punitive damages were also awarded against Williamson. CBC News reports that Williamson had not been charged criminally or found guilty of the historical sexual assaults.
Although the decision is from an Ontario trial-level court and may be subject to appeal, Alberta courts may find the decision persuasive. Therefore, this decision is an important development in the law and helpful for other plaintiffs moving forward.