A South Florida seafood restaurant has been deemed liable to pay $2 million in damages after a federal jury determined the restaurant’s employee was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of a crash that injured another driver. The question of exactly what the worker was doing at the time of the crash was central to the issue of vicarious liability – and whether the restaurant could be made to pay.
Vicarious liability is a form of strict, secondary liability in which a supervisory party (like an employer) can be held responsible for the negligent actions of a subordinate or associate (i.e., an employee). It stems from the belief that these supervisory parties have a right, ability or duty to control the actions of their subordinates. It’s not necessary to prove the supervisory party was actually negligent or even that it knew about the subordinate’s actions. This type of liability falls under the umbrella of a doctrine called respondeat superior, which is Latin for “let the master answer.”
In some cases, it’s obvious that a worker was acting in the course and scope of employment. An example might be a truck driver delivering cargo from a supplier to a receiver in a company-owned truck. However, if at any point that driver is side-tracked or is running a personal errand and the crash occurs at that time, defendant could argue the driver was not acting in the course and scope of employment and therefore the employer can’t be liable. That’s what defendant tried to argue in the recent case before the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida. Continue reading