Sunday, June 12, 2022

Judge Nealon of Lackawanna County Notes That Direct and Vicarious Theories May Be Pursued Against Employer For Negligence by Employee

In the motor vehicle accident case of Shaver v. Levelle, No. 21-CV-2465 (C.P. Lacka. Co. May 26, 2022 Nealon, J.), the defendant-motorist’s employer filed preliminary objections seeking to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, and training as legally insufficient since the motorist admitted that he was an employee of the employer at the time of the accident. 

Judge Nealon reviewed the law on this issue in detail and noted that several federal district courts and at least one common pleas court have, in the past, dismissed claims against employers for negligent hiring, training, and supervision in cases of admitted agency, and have done so on the basis that no Pennsylvania appellate court has ever held that a plaintiff may simultaneously pursue claims against an employer for vicarious liability and direct liability in cases where an employer-employee relationship is admitted. 

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County

Judge Nealon found that those previous court decisions that have gone the other way on this issue were negated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, LLC, 57 A.3d 582 (Pa. 2012), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the argument that a plaintiff is barred from pursuing a direct negligence claim against a corporate employer if it acknowledges that the employee was acting within the course of employment at the time of the tort.  That Court concluded that “direct and vicarious theories of liability are grounded in distinct policies and serve complementary purposes in the law of torts,” and that they may be “asserted either concomitantly or alternately” even in cases of undisputed agency. 

Judge Nealon found that, since the federal and state trial court rulings cited by the defendant-employer “are contrary to the Supreme Court reasoning in Scampone,” the Defendant's preliminary objection was overruled.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

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