A contract made by an agent on behalf of the principal legally binds the principal. Three types of authority may bind the principal: (1) express authority—that which is actually given and spelled out, (2) implied authority—that which may fairly be inferred from the parties’ relationship and which is incidental to the agent’s express authority, and (3) apparent authority—that which reasonably appears to a third party under the circumstances to have been given by the principal. Even in the absence of authority, a principal may ratify the agent’s acts.
The principal may be liable for tortious acts of the agent but except under certain regulatory statutes may not be held criminally liable for criminal acts of agents not prompted by the principal. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, a principal is generally liable for acts by a servant within the scope of employment. A principal usually will not be held liable for acts of nonservant agents that cause physical damage, although he will be held liable for nonphysical torts, such as misrepresentation. The principal will not be held liable for tortious acts of independent contractors, although the principal may be liable for injuries resulting from his failure to act in situations in which he was not legally permitted to delegate a duty to act. Whenever an agent is acting to further the principal’s business interests, the principal will be held vicariously liable for the agent’s intentional torts. What constitutes scope of employment is not easy to determine; the modern trend is to hold a principal liable for the conduct of an agent if it was foreseeable that the agent might act as he did.
Most states have special rules of vicarious liability for special situations; for example, liability of an automobile owner for use by another. Spouses are not vicariously liable for each other, nor are parents for children, except for failing to control children known to be dangerous.
In general, an agent is not personally liable on contracts he has signed on behalf of a principal. This general rule has several exceptions recognized in most states: (1) when the agent is serving an undisclosed or partially disclosed principal, (2) when the agent lacks authority or exceeds his authority, and (3) if the agent entered into the contract in a personal capacity.
The agency relationship may be terminated by mutual consent, by express agreement of the parties that the agency will end at a certain time or on the occurrence of a certain event, or by an implied agreement arising out of the circumstances in each case. The agency may also be unilaterally revoked by the principal—unless the agency is coupled with an interest—or renounced by the agent. Finally, the agency will terminate by operation of law under certain circumstances, such as death of the principal or agent.
Authority that legally may bind the principal includes
As a general rule, a principal is not
An agent may be held personally liable on contracts signed on behalf of a principal when
An agency relationship may be terminated by
The principal’s liability for the agent’s acts of which the principal had no knowledge or intention to commit is called