The Negligent Tort Liability – Summary

In 1932, the House of Lords decided that a person could sue another for causing damage even if there is no actual contract relationship (Korporowicz, 2019). Today, negligence is one of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits. It happens when someone fails to act with the level of care that a person of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. It can happen in many aspects of a company, especially when an employee causes injury to a third party. In the case of Superior Electrical, the employees were to have a driver’s license because they would operate vehicles to and from construction sites. However, Cory Jones hired as an apprentice electrician – not expected to drive at the time – caused an accident later after promotion. The company had not performed clear background checks to identify the various traffic violations that Jones had committed before he got hired. The plaintiff, Carson’s, sued the company based on respondeat superior and negligent hiring. This paper discusses the legal elements of negligent hiring and respondeat superior, applying them to the facts given in the case to determine whether Superior Electrical was liable for either or both of these two claims.

Legal Elements of Negligent Hiring

Every organization must exercise reasonable care during hiring. In negligence lawsuits, the outcome depends on whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. It exists when the relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff necessitates the plaintiff to employ a standard of care. If the duty of care exists, the next element the court has to establish is whether the defendant breached the duty. This element requires that the defendant’s actions prove that they did not exercise reasonable care in fulfilling their duty. In most court cases, the jury determines this element. On breach of duty, the jury bases their decision on the following: An average person discerned everything the defendant knew at the time and would have known the injury was imminent from the actions and would have done something different from what the offender did in the circumstances. If the defendant breached the duty of care, the court or case lawyer must establish a proximate cause. This stage involves assessing whether the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury and the plaintiff’s injury is a harm of the type the laws permit recovery. For damages, the plaintiff has to prove a legally recognized harm, usually in the form of physical injury or property.

Applying the Elements of Negligent Hiring to the Case

Superior Electrical had put out the requirements for the job, that the hires must have a valid driver’s license. Mr. Jones knew of these requirements and still lied that he had a driver’s license and never had traffic violations. The company did not exercise reasonable care to confirm these claims. Would an average person know that assigning a vehicle to a non-licensed driver would eventually cause an accident? Yes. Would an average person have acted differently in that situation? Yes. Anyone could have foreseen that assigning a vehicle to someone without verifying their credentials could cause an accident. Superior promoted Mr. Jones and allowed him to drive without confirming whether he had a driver’s license at the time. This action was a direct breach of the duty of care to the employee and the public. There is a reason for requiring a driver to possess a license; because they can easily cause accidents. It is even significant for a driver required to carry heavy equipment, such as wiring materials, implying that there was a “foreseeable risk of injury to a foreseeable plaintiff” (Steenson, 2018, p. 33). The lack of exercising a duty of care was a proximate cause of the accident because if the company had checked Mr. Jones’s background and deemed him unfit to drive, the accident would not have occurred. This analysis indicates that Superior was liable for negligent hiring.

Legal Elements of Respondeat Superior

Respondeat superior is the doctrine that puts the responsibility of an employee upon the employer. This doctrine holds an employer responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee if such happenings occur within the employment scope (Luskin, 2020). This tort requires three elements: Firstly, the employee committed the crime, secondly, while acting within their job scope, and thirdly, with an intent to benefit the corporation. Notably, if the employee caused an accident or their conduct was outside the scope of their job duties and responsibilities, as defined by the company, they would not be liable for the employee’s wrongdoings. This doctrine seeks to avoid charging employers for the actions of their employees while outside the scope of employment.

Applying the Elements of Respondeat Superior to the Case

Was Mr. Jones within the scope of his employment? No. The accident happened while Mr. Jones was out of work (beyond the working hours). Was Mr. Jones’s intention to benefit the employer at the time when the accident happened? No. He was not on active daily duty. It was past working hours, heading home from work. If Mr. Jones were engaging in activity within the employer’s premises or within his scope of employment with potential benefits for the employer, Superior would be held accountable. The only thing that implicates the employer, in this case, is the company car, but which does not count in the elements of respondeat superior doctrine. More information might be essential to establish whether Mr. Jones was engaged in an activity that would benefit the employer. However, Superior was not liable under respondeat superior because Mr. Jones did not meet the requirement of the employment scope.

Conclusion

Superior Electrical engaged in negligent hiring but may not be liable for its employee’s actions under respondeat superior. In the former, the company failed to take reasonable care to fulfill its duty towards the public and employees through background checks. Superior hired Mr. Jones without validating his driver’s license. Additionally, the company promoted him and assigned him a vehicle despite numerous traffic violations. It was a breach of duty to the public and other employees, which caused the accident that resulted in physical injury to the Carson’s. However, under the respondeat superior doctrine, Mr. Jones was not acting in the employer’s interest because he had already ended his work hours. That is, it was just after completing his duties that he caused the accident while driving home. If the employee caused this accident while driving to work, within the working hours, or working to benefit his employer, Superior would then be liable for damages. Negligent hiring and respondeat superior are two crucial doctrines in the employment sector. They influence an organization’s activities in managing employees. Yet, they remain significant in ensuring employers take reasonable care to protect the public and those within their premises.

References

Korporowicz, Ł. J. (2019). Civilian Arguments in the House of Lords’ Judgments: Regarding Delictual (Tortious) Liability in 20th and 21st Century. In Modernisation, National Identity and Legal Instrumentalism (Vol. I: Private Law) (pp. 212-236). Brill Nijhoff.

Luskin, R. (2020). Caring about Corporate’Due Care’: Why Criminal Respondeat Superior Liability Outreaches Its Justification. Am. Crim. L. Rev.57, 303.

Steenson, M. (2018). Duty, Foreseeability, and Montemayor v. Sebright Products, Inc. Mitchell Hamline LJ Pub. Pol’y & Prac.39, 31.