The doctrine ofrespondeat superior
Selmani v City of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 02764, Appellate Division, Second Department
In this action the Appellate Division sets out the basics regarding the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Essentially, said the court, the doctrine of respondeat superior will hold an employer vicariously liable for torts committed by an employee acting within the scope of the individual’s employment. Pursuant to this doctrine, the employer may be liable when the employee acts negligently or intentionally, so long as the tortious conduct is generally foreseeable and a natural incident of the individual’s employment.
The Appellate Division indicated that:
1. "An employee's actions fall within the scope of employment where the purpose in performing such actions is to further the employer's interest, or to carry out duties incumbent upon the employee in furthering the employer's business'.”
2. "An act is considered to be within the scope of employment if it is performed while the employee is engaged generally in the business of the employer, or if the act may be reasonably said to be necessary or incidental to such employment."
3. “Where, however, an employee's actions are taken for wholly personal reasons, which are not job related, the [employee’s] actions cannot be said to fall within the scope of employment.”
4. “In instances where vicarious liability for an employee's torts cannot be imposed upon an employer, a direct cause of action against the employer for its own conduct, be it negligent hiring, supervision, or other negligence, may still be maintained.”
In this actions certain patrons at restaurant alleged that the individual defendants named in their compliant, who were members of the employer’s Fire Department, entered the restaurant with coworkers, including supervisors. The group of firefighters had allegedly come from a Fire Department annual dinner held at another location and continued celebrating and drinking at the restaurant.
One of the injured plaintiffs allegedly accidentally spilled a drink on a firefighter and was allegedly attacked and assaulted by the named defendant-firefighters. The employer moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted it. The Supreme Court granted the motion.
The Appellate Division modified the Supreme Court’s order by deleting the provision granting that branch of the employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the causes of action alleging negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention insofar as asserted against them. The court, instead, substituted a provision denying that branch of the motion; as so modified, affirmed the Supreme Court’s order.
The Appellate Division explained that although Supreme Court properly granted” the employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the causes of action alleging vicarious liability, as the employer had established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that the tortious conduct of named defendant-firefighters was not within the scope of their employment,* it failed to rebut the plaintiffs’ claims of alleged “negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention,” and thus the employer did not establish its entitlement to summary judgment as a matter of law on that branch of the plaintiffs' complaint.
The employer, said the court, failed to submit any evidence demonstrating that it did not know or have reason to know of defendant-firefighters’ alleged “propensity for assaultive conduct” nor did the employer submit evidence demonstrating that any such alleged negligence was not a proximate cause of the injured plaintiffs' injuries.
* This finding suggests that the defendant–firefighters can neither claim “defense nor indemnification” from their employer.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: