Monday, August 25, 2014

No Respondeat Superior Liability For Criminal Acts of Employees



In its recent decision in the case of Spitsin v. WGM Transportation, 2014 Pa.Super. 162 (Pa. Super. July 29, 2014 Ford Elliott, P.J.E., Lazarus, J., Wecht, J.) (Op. by Wecht, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed that an employer was not liable for a cab driver’s assault of a non-paying passenger where the record revealed that the employee used excess and dangerous force in an effort to collect the fare.  

According to the Opinion, after a taxi ride, the Plaintiff attempted to flee and avoid paying a fare after a taxi ride when he was restrained by a bystander and then kicked and punched by the taxi driver.   The Plaintiff was transported to a nearby hospital where a diagnostic study revealed a hairline fracture of his jaw.  

The Plaintiff sued WGM Transportation, the employer of the taxi driver, on a theory of respondeat superior. 

The employer filed Preliminary Objections arguing that an employer was not liable for an assault and battery by an employee upon another as such conduct was beyond the scope of the employment.  The employer also noted that the employee committed an act involving the use of force which was excessive and so dangerous as to leave the employer totally without responsibility.

The trial court sustained the Preliminary Objections of the employer and dismissed the Plaintiff’s respondeat superior claim.   The Superior Court affirmed it.

Judge David N. Wecht
Pennsylvania Superior Court
In his Superior Court Opinion, Judge David N. Wecht reiterated the law of the doctrine of respondeat superior that an employer may indeed be liable for the acts of its employees committed during the course of and within the scope of employment.   The court noted, however, that where an employee commits an act involving the use of force which was excessive and so dangerous as to be totally without responsibility or reason, the employer was not responsible under such circumstances.  

According to the record, a bystander had restrained the Plaintiff as he attempted to flee and there was nothing in the record indicating that the bystander’s restraint was insufficient to keep the Plaintiff at bay until the fare could be collected by the taxi driver or until the police could be summoned to take control.  

The court agreed that, when the taxi driver punched and kicked the Plaintiff while he was being held on the ground and unable to defend himself, the taxi driver departed from the scope of his employment in that there is no evidence that the employer instructed its taxi drivers to attack restrained and vulnerable passengers who refuse to pay their fares.  

The Superior Court ultimately ruled that the trial court was correct in finding, as a matter of law, that the Plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted for vicarious liability against the employer under the circumstances presented.

Anyone wishing to read this Opinion in the Spitsin case may click this LINK  

It is noted that Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge David N. Wecht will be a featured presenter at the upcoming Tort Talk Expo 2014 set to take place on September 26, 2014 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 


Click HERE to view the Agenda for the CLE seminar and, if interested in attending, please click HERE to Register online, or contact me at dancummins@cmcast.net.


 

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