Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Claims for Negligent Hiring, Retention and Supervision in Trucking Accident Cases Fail Where No Punitive Damages Alleged

In what may be a case of first impression in Pennsylvania state court, Judge David J. Williamson ruled that a claim against a truck driver's employer for negligent hiring, retention, supervision or entrustment cannot stand in the absence of a related claim for punitive damages.

In the case of Sullivan v. Crete Carrier Corp., No. 8716 - CV - 2015 (C.P. Monroe Co. Jan. 18, 2019 Williamson, J.), the court granted the Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Plaintiff’s claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, and retention against the trucker’s employer arising out of a trucking accident case.  

In the Complaint, the Plaintiff sued a Defendant truck driver and the trucking company for personal injuries.  The Plaintiff asserted claims for negligent entrustment and negligent hiring
and retention.   The Plaintiff did not make a claim for punitive damages in the Complaint.  

The defense asserted in its motion for summary judgment that, since the Plaintiff had not asserted a punitive damages claim, the Plaintiff's claim for negligent entrustment, hiring and retention must be dismissed as a matter of law.

Judge Williamson noted that the courts have generally dismissed claims for negligent supervision and negligent hiring when a supervisor concedes an agency relationship with a Co-Defendant, such as was the case in this matter.   However, a recognized exception exists when a Plaintiff has made a claim for punitive damages against a supervisor.  

Judge David J. Williamson
Monroe County
Citing to unpublished Federal District Court cases in Pennsylvania, the court stated that, where no punitive damages claim has been asserted against a supervisor Defendant, under Pennsylvania law, a trial court must dismiss negligent supervision and entrustment claims.  

The stated rationale is that the employer's liability is a derivative claim fixed by a determination of the employee's negligence.  Therefore, evidence of negligent hiring, retention, or supervision become irrelevant and prejudicial if the employer has already admitted to an agency relationship and where no claim for punitive damages exists.

In the end, the court ruled that, since the trucking company admitted that the trucker was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and given that the Plaintiff had failed to plead a punitive damages claim against the trucking company, the Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against the Plaintiff’s claims against the company for negligent entrustment, hiring, and retention, must be granted.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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