Part Two—Liability Once hired, what happens when employees make mistakes or engage in misconduct on the job that hurts others? Must the employer bear the loss in these situations? Job classification is an important first question in determining company liability for workers’ job-related injuries, harm to others, and crimes. An enterprise ordinarily will not be liable for the acts of its independent contractors. Employers, on the other hand, often bear legal responsibility for employees’ accidents or wrongs. That liability may spring from the doctrine of respond eat superior (let the master answer), a form of vicarious liability (sometimes called imputed liability). Scope of Employment Employer liability for employee injuries, accidents, or wrongs is largely dependent on whether the employee was on the job at the time of the incident in question. Employers will be held liable under respondeat superior/vicarious liability reasoning for harm to third parties caused by the intentional or negligent acts of their employees when those acts occur within the scope of employment (on the job). A finding of employer liability, of course, does not excuse the employee from her personal liability, but the respondeat superior reasoning does have the potential effect of opening the employer’s deeper pockets to the plaintiff. The following questions ordinarily determine whether the harm occurred in the scope of employment: 1. Was the employee subject to the employer’s supervision? 2. Was the employee motivated, at least in part, by a desire to serve the employer’s business interests? 3. Did the problem arise substantially within normal working hours and in a work location? 4. Was the act in question of the general kind the employee had been hired to perform? In Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles,27 the city was held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for a sexual assault committed by a police officer. At 2:30 am on October 3, 1981, Sergeant Leigh Schroyer was on duty, in uniform, carrying a gun, and patrolling in his marked police car. He stopped Mary M. for erratic driving. She pleaded not to be arrested. He ordered her to enter his patrol car and took her to her home. He entered her home and said that he expected “payment” for not arresting her. He raped her and was subsequently sentenced to a term in state prison. Mary M. sued the City of Los Angeles. The general inquiry was whether Schroyer was acting within the scope of his employment during the rape episode. The jury found for Mary M. and awarded $150,000 in damages. The Court of Appeals reversed, saying that Schroyer was not acting within the scope of his employment. The case went to the California Supreme Court. The city argued that Schroyer was acting on behalf of his own interests rather than those of the city, and that the city had not authorized his conduct. Therefore, Schroyer could not have been acting within the scope of employment. However, the court said that the correct question was not whether the rape was authorized but whether it happened in the course of a series of acts that were authorized. The court reversed, saying that a jury could find the city vicariously liable (imputed to the principal from the agent) given the unique authority of police officers in our society. Questions 1. Jean was carrying groceries out of the grocery store Hy-Vee when she was struck and injured by a bicycle driven by Lewis, a 16-year-old Hy-Vee employee. Lewis was hurrying home to get a belt to complete his required Hy-Vee work uniform. He had received permission from his supervisor to return home for that purpose; Lewis had neither clocked in nor started his shift. Jean sued Hy-Vee for her resulting injuries. a. What is Jean’s claim? b. Decide the case. Explain. See Jean v. Hy Vee, Inc. 825 N.W.2d 327 (Ct. App. Iowa 2012). 2. Ahern, a chef at the Heathwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, left work and went to the South Pacific Chinese Restaurant where he met his supervisor, Pacitti, to socialize and discuss work-related matters. Ahern purchased two drinks and consumed at least one drink and one-half of the other before leaving to go home. On his way home, Ahern’s vehicle struck Lev as he was crossing a street, causing severe and debilitating injuries. Ahern was arrested and eventually convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Lev sued Heathwood’s owner and operator, Beverly Enterprises, alleging that Beverly was vicariously liable for Ahern’s negligence based on their employment relationship. a. What was the central issue in this case? b. Decide the case. Explain. See Lev v. Beverly Enterprises, 457 Mass. 234 (Sup. Jud. Ct. Mass. 2010) 3. What policy justifications support the imposition of liability on an employer for the wrongs of an employee operating within the scope of employment?
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