Often times our clients are injured as the result of the negligence—or even the intentional tortious act—committed by an employee. The question always becomes whether or not the employer can be held responsible for the negligence and/or intentional acts of its employee. The answer to that question is significant in that if answered in the affirmative, it provides an avenue to pursue the insurance policy of the employer for our client’s injuries.
The Doctrine of “Respondeat Superior”
Under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior, an employer can be found liable for the negligence and in certain circumstances the intentional acts of its employees if it is shown that the employee was acting within the course of scope of employment and in furtherance of the interests of the employer’s business purpose. See e.g., Iglesia Cristiana La Del Senor, Inc. v. L.M., 783 So. 2d 353 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001).
So what does it mean for an employee to be acting within the course and scope of employment? In making that determination, Florida courts generally look at whether:
- The service being performed was the kind the employee was employed to actually perform,
- The conduct committed by the employee (whether the negligent act or intentional tort), occurred substantially within the hours of work and at the place of business, and whether
- The action was intended, at least in part, to serve the interests of the employer.
The last prong is important, and an employer can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees if the employee is furthering the employer’s interests, even if the employee himself is gaining some benefit as well.
Difficulty often arises when trying to determine whether an employer can be held responsible for the actions of his/her employee after the employee commits a battery on someone. At first glance, it would seem that inflicting physical harm on someone would not be acting within the course and scope of one’s employment. There are, however, instances where Florida courts have found employers liable for the intentional torts committed by their employees.
For instance, in Colombia by the Sea, Inc. v. Petty, the Second District Court of Appeals found that a restaurant could be held vicariously liable for its employee assaulting a customer. The court looked at the circumstances surrounding the assault and found that the waiter had assaulted the customer in attempts to secure payment for an unpaid bill. Thus, even though the assault may have occurred out of the employee’s own personal aggression and anger, the assault was also precipitated in part by the employee’s desire to protect the interest of his employer by ensuring payment for the bill. 157 So. 2d 190 (Fla. 2d DCA1963). What this case illustrates is that if you are able to show that at least part of the employee’s motivation in committing the assault/battery furthered the interests of the employee, vicarious liability may be established.
In contrast, if the conduct of the employee is perpetrated for the sole purpose of fulfilling the employee’s personal desire to conduct a practical joke or the like, an employer will not be held vicariously liable. Such a scenario occurred in Bryant v. CSX Transp. Inc., where an employee threw a cherry bomb and injured a co-employee. The court found that such an act did not further the interests of the employer and therefore the employer could not be found vicariously liable. 577 So. 2d 613 (1st DCA 1991).
When you are injured by someone’s employee, it is imperative to know under what circumstances you may successfully pursue the employer for your damages. Whether you are injured as the result of someone’s negligence, or you’ve suffered an assault, speaking with an attorney who understands the intricacies involved in litigating your claim is critical. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group are well versed in litigating claims involving vicarious liability and the doctrine of respondeat superior. For more information call 727-451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765