Question 1: Should Sussman be permitted to collect from Paraiso’s employer under respondeat superior? Why or why not?
Before going to work, Elizabeth Paraiso received a telephone call from the manager of the spa where she works asking her to purchase a birthday cake on her way to work for the planned birthday party of the assistance manager. After purchasing the cake, Elizabeth was driving towards the spa when she reached over to block the cake from falling from the car seat. As a result, she lost control of the car hitting William Sussman who was sitting on a bench. The issue that emerged is whether Sussman can collect compensation for damages from Elizabeth’s employer under the principle of respondeat superior.
Rule of Law
This case falls under tort law, which encompasses civil wrongs accruing liability to the wrongdoer and providing redress to the aggrieved party (Glannon, 2005). There are instances when a party not directly involved in the wrongdoing becomes liable expressed by the principle of vicarious liability.
In case of the employer-employee or principal-agent relationships, the employer or principal could accrue liable for the wrongdoing of an employee unless the elements of respondeat superior are complied with, which means the master becoming equally responsible for the negligent actions of the servant. Liability of the employer over the wrong done by the employee accrues when the act constituting or giving rise to the wrongdoing is under the scope of employment.
This means that the employer has authorized the act, the act is committed within the scope of work of the employer and intended to support the business of the employer, and the employer ratified the act. The rationale for respondeat superior is that the employer has control of the scope of work of the employee and the manner of doing work so that wrongdoings done by an employee falling under scope of employment, also become a liability of the employer as well as to ensure indemnity especially for employees without the ability to pay damages. (Glannon, 2005; Goldberg, Sebok & Zipursky, 2004)
Based on tort law, vicarious liability covered by the principle of respondeat superior could accrue to Elizabeth Paraiso’s employer. The rationale is that the scope of employment also covers actions, although not within the normal scope of work, but authorized by the employer. Since Elizabeth Paraiso was doing an errand (Glanon, 2005) for the employer when the accident occurred, liability could also be imposed on the employer.
The purchasing of a cake, which was an errand for the employer and requiring the employee to drive to work from a different route falls within the control of the employer. In addition, the actions of the employee that resulted to Sussman’s injuries were in the course of fulfilling the errand. It is implied that the spa manager expected the cake to be in tact because this will be used in the birthday party of the assistance manager. Leaning to prevent the cake from falling from the car seat to keep the cake in tact is within the expectations of the spa manager so that the resulting injury also accrues to the employer.
It appears that there are no intervening actions that could have broken the authority and control of the employer towards the employee, which could have prevented the application of respondeat superior. Moreover, employer refers to the company, as an independent entity. However, as an inanimate entity, it operates through its agents, which in this case is the spa manager. The spa manager is holding the position of being in charge of the entire spa operations becoming the alter ego of the employer company. The authority of the spa manager over the errand, which the employee fulfilled amounts to the employer-firm exercising authority.
The facts of the case and the rule of respondeat superior shows that liability for the injuries sustained by William Sussman could accrue to the employer. While respondeat superior serves the purpose of ensuring compensation to the aggrieved party for wrongdoings in the course of employment, fairness requires proof of employee authority or control.
Question 2: Should the City of Los Angeles be held responsible for Sergeant Schroyer’s acts under respondeat superior?
Seargeant Schroyer was in his uniform, driving a police car, and on duty as field supervisor, with the responsibility of overseeing police officers on street patrol. During that time, he stopped Mary’s vehicle to administer a field sobriety test, which she had difficulty performing. Schroyer ordered her to the patrol car and drove her home. However, Schroyer demanded payment for not arresting her and raped her. Mary protested but stopped screaming when Schroyer threatened to take her to jail. Since Schoyer is an employee of the City of Los Angeles, the facts give rise to issue of whether the city government also has responsibility for the conduct of Schroyer under the rule of respondeat superior.
Rule of Law
The situation falls under tort law that covers civil wrongs providing redress to the harmed or injured party and imposing liability on the wrongdoer (Glannon, 2005). There are instances when the employer accrues liability for an employee’s acts under the respondeat superior rule. However, for liability to accrue to the employer, the actions resulting to the wrongdoing should fall under the employee’s scope of employment. Scope of employment means acts have close links with the task assignment or job description of the employee so that these can be fairly and reasonably considered as methods, even if quite improper, in fulfilling employment objectives. (Goldberg, Sebok & Zipursky, 2004)
There are three criteria of assessing whether conduct falls under scope of employment. First is that the action of the employee constitutes general conduct that is expected in hiring the employee so that the actions must be within the nature of the business and the responsibilities assigned by the employer. Second, the act must substantially be committed within the ordinary hours of work and locale of employment. Third is that the motivation for the action of the employee should be at the least or in part done to fulfill the employer’s interests. (Birkner v. Salt Lake County, 1989)
The case suggests the need to determine whether the actions of Sergeant Schroyer were within his scope of employment to determine whether respondeat superior applies to the City of Los Angeles. The first criterion provides that the actions must be within the nature of the business and responsibilities of the employee. The case shows that the responsibility of Schroyer was to supervise and train police officers on police duty. However, since he is a police officer, part of his job is also to apprehend violators of law in his watch even if he is fulfilling a supervisory task at the time of the conduct in question.
Stopping the vehicle is valid only if there was a law violated or crime committed, which was not mentioned in the case so that proof is needed on this matter. If there was violation, then stopping the car that led to the series of events culminating in the liability is within the scope of employment. Otherwise, the act is outside of the scope of employment.
The second criterion is that the conduct is committed during the normal hours of work and place of employment. The facts show that the act was made while the employee was on duty and outside of the office because he is on field duty. The third criterion provides that the motive for the act be at the least or in part, to fulfill employer’s interests. The facts show that the employee deviated from the fulfillment of city government’s interest by breaking protocol in bringing Mary home and raping her in exchange for not arresting her.
Assuming that the stopping of Mary’s vehicle was valid, the standard operating procedure is to arrest the driver and bring her to the precinct, this was the conduct expected by the City of Los Angeles from Schroyer in employing him as police officer and field supervisor/trainer for patrol officers.
Respondeat superior does not apply to the City of Los Angeles in this case because of the employer deviated from his scope of employment so that his conduct, resulting to liability, is no longer within the authority of his employer.
Birkner v. Salt Lake County (1989) 771 P.2d 1053, 1057 (Utah)
Glannon, J. W. (2005). The law of torts: Examples and explanations. New York: Aspen Publishers.
Goldberg, J. C., Sebok, A. J., & Zipursky, B. C. (2004). Tort law: responsibilities and redress. New York: Aspen Publishers.