Respondeat superior, a type of vicarious liability, allows plaintiffs to hold employers liable for their employees’ negligent acts. For instance, if you’re injured in an auto accident by a delivery driver, you could elect to sue the delivery company instead of the individual driver.
Why would a plaintiff opt to sue the employer instead? First, they’re more likely to have the funds to pay for the lawsuit. Because medical care is expensive, and many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s prudent to pursue the most likely source of compensation.
Second, respondeat superior can help hold employers responsible for their contribution to the accident. If an accident or personal injury occurred as a result of poor training, pressure on employees to neglect safety standards or other negligent actions.
Here’s how this legal option works.
When does respondeat superior apply?
A plaintiff can sue an employer when their employee was acting within the scope of their employment. If that sounds broad, you’re correct: a great deal of case law is predicated on determining whether specific situations are within the scope of an employee’s work.
For example, in Davis v. The May Dept. Stores, Co. (2001), an Ohio security guard detained and searched a customer. Even though the guard had deviated from his employer’s procedural guidelines, the court held he was acting in the scope of his employment.
If you bring a lawsuit under the respondeat superior theory, your claim may hinge on the scope of the employee’s job. At a certain point, their actions are too far removed from their job. Imagine a construction worker sent to purchase supplies at a nearby home improvement store. During the trip to the store, they decide to go get lunch at a nearby pub. Several hours and several beers later, they get back in their car and cause a car crash. Are they still considered to be acting in the scope of their employment?
According to years of case law, probably not. When an employee deviates that far from their job duties, it’s called “frolic and detour.” Negligent actions during a frolic and detour are solely the employee’s responsibility. The employer cannot be held liable.
The Law Offices of Tim Misny can help you understand your legal options. We’ll review your case and let you know whether you’re likely to succeed on a respondeat superior claim, or if there’s a better option for you.
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