Employer Not Liable for Employee’s Conduct Under the Doctrine of “Respondeat Superior”

In Ali v. State of New York, the Appellate Division, Second Department held that the lower court properly dismissed plaintiff’s claim for personal injuries allegedly suffered as a result of defendant’s employee’s conduct.

Here are the facts:

On February 24, 2009, the claimant was in the waiting area of the office of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board located at 111 Livingston Street in Brooklyn. As the claimant was sitting on a wooden bench reading a newspaper, he observed a security guard talking on a cell phone while looking out a window. During the phone conversation, the security guard was informed of his grandmother’s death and, in reaction to that news, went over to the waiting area and punched a wooden bench that was in front of the claimant, causing it to fall on the claimant.

Plaintiff sued the State of New York. At the close of the trial on the issue of liability, the Court of Claims granted defendant’s motion to dismiss the claim. The appellate court affirmed.

The law:

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the torts committed by an employee acting within the scope of the 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 employment. An employer, however, cannot be held vicariously liable for its employee’s alleged tortious conduct if the employee was acting solely for personal motives unrelated to the furtherance of the employer’s business at the time of the incident. (Emphasis added.)

The court explained why, under the facts of this case, the employer is not liable:

Here, the parties do not dispute that the security guard is an employee of the defendant for purposes of tort liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior. However, the defendant is not vicariously liable for the security guard’s conduct because the evidence at trial established that the security guard was acting solely for personal motives unrelated to the defendant’s business at the time of the incident. Furthermore, the evidence failed to demonstrate that the security guard’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.

The lower court therefore was correct to grant defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim.

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