Vicarious Liability / Module 3 SLP

Vicarious Liability / Module 3 SLP



Vicarious Liability / Module 3 SLP

Vicarious Liability

            Vicarious liability refers to a situation where the law holds one party responsible for the crimes and wrongful actions that second entity has committed. Normally, the concept arises in situations where the two parties have a relationship that involves power dynamics similar to those between an employer and his or her employee (Ward, 2010). In cases, where there is an agent and a principal or an arrangement similar to that found in a partnership, the superior entity can bear responsibility for the actions of the inferior individual. The key principle behind vicarious liability is that parties have a responsibility to control the actions of their subordinates or partners. In some cases, vicarious liability applies outside of legal associations such as partnerships and employer-employee relationships. For instance, the law can sometimes hold the head of a household responsible for the actions of a younger member of the family (Ward, 2010).  

Vicarious Liability in the Robert Courtney Case

            The Robert Courtney case revolves around an American pharmacist who diluted chemotherapy medication that he then distributed to physicians in the state of Missouri. Courtney’s practices began in 1990 when he started diluting the drugs that he was distributing as a way of increasing their volume and his revenue (Jaffe, 2001). The authorities discovered his crimes in 2001 when one of Courtney’s clients carried out tests on the drugs that he had bought and noticed that they were diluted. Upon notification, the authorities investigated Courtney’s pharmacy and indicted him on 20 charges of the distribution of diluted drugs. The vicarious liability comes in through the interactions that Courtney had with his suppliers, Eli Lilly and Co. According to the plaintiffs in lawsuits against Courtney, Eli Lilly bore responsibility because it had discovered discrepancies between the drug amounts that it sold to Courtney and that he then distributed to medical practitioners (Jaffe, 2001). The fact that the company failed to act on these discrepancies means that it was partially responsible for the premature deaths that resulted from Courtney’s felonies. As a company operating in the drug industry, Eli Lilly was obliged to investigate the discrepancies that its employees found within Courtney’s operations. This failure to carry out further investigations allowed Courtney to continue with his crimes and cause more suffering to his victims.

Responsible Organizational Parties

            The management of Eli Lilly should bear primary secondary responsibility for Courtney’s actions. As the leaders of the firm, they are obliged to make sure that their operations and decisions protect their stakeholders and any other parties that use their products. The management should have exercised its authority and made sure that any suspicions that Courtney was diluting medication were investigated. The sales department in Eli Lilly should also bear responsibility for the actions of Courtney. According to the reports that the company issued, the first person to suspect that Courtney was diluting chemotherapy medication was a sales representative at the firm (Eli Lilly and Co., 2001). As such, the failure to investigate any suspicions of Courtney’s activity would fall on the department because of its direct involvement in the incident.

Patients’ Liability

            The patients who received Courtney’s diluted chemotherapy drugs do not bear any responsibility for the rogue pharmacist’s actions. One reason why the law cannot hold the patients vicariously responsible is their lack of expertise on the issue. It is unlikely that any of the patients would have had an understanding of medication that was good enough to help them realize that the drugs they were using were not as potent as they should have been. Secondly, the patients received their dosages from physicians, trusting that the medical professionals had everything under control. That Courtney had diluted the drugs and reduced their potency was not an issue that the patients would have suspected due to the trust that they had in their physicians.


Eli Lilly and Co. (2001). Eli Lilly and Company shares timeline of its activities in alleged drug dilution by Kansas City pharmacist. Retrieved from

Jaffe, A. (2001). Courtney case prompts new look at drug dispensing. Kansas City Business Journal. Retrieved from

\Ward, P. (2010). Tort law in Ireland. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International.

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