Respondeat Superior (Latin for “let the superior reply”) is a legal doctrine that holds an employer legally liable for any negligence or wrongful actions taken by their employee.
In aviation law, the issue of whether or not an airline is responsible for a pilot’s actions opens up an array of issues regarding FAA certification. In the case of Colgan Air Flight 3407, investigations revealed several indiscretions by the pilot, including the failure of five separate checkrides, which are practical tests administered by the FAA.
At the time of the accident, the pilot was indeed certified to fly that particular airplane, and that certification, according to the airline, meant they did not violate any federal regulations and therefore, were not liable under a respondeat superior basis. However, the test to receive that certification was not handled by anyone who worked directly for the FAA but rather by a fellow Colgan employee who had merely been authorized to give the test.