Can an employer be held liable for both negligent hiring AND respondeat superior?
In Sedam v. 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC, 84 N.E.3d 1174 (Ind. 2017), the Supreme Court of Indiana reaffirmed Tindall v. Enderle, 320 N.E.2d 764 (Ind. Ct. App. 1974), a case which precludes a cause of action for negligent hiring when liability is also premised on a theory of respondeat superior, a legal doctrine that holds an employer legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment.
Defendant employee, Amanda Parker, was a pizza delivery driver for 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC (“Pizza Hut”) when she collided with a scooter operated by Plaintiff, David Hamblin. Hamblin was ejected from his scooter before he was run over and killed by another motorist. Hamblin’s Estate then filed a wrongful death suit against Parker, Pizza Hut, and the other driver, alleging that Hamblin’s death was directly and proximately caused by, among other things, Pizza Hut’s negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision of Parker and Parker’s negligent operation of her car, for which Pizza Hut was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Pizza Hut admitted Parker was within the scope of her employment at the time of the collision. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Pizza Hut and dismissed the negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision claims. On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case back to the trial court. The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to examine the issue.
The Indiana Supreme Court referenced the precedential effects of Tindall, Broadstreet v. Hall, 80 N.E. 145 (Ind. 1907), the Indiana Comparative Fault Act, and § 317 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, to hold that upon admission that an employee was acting within the course of employment, the doctrine of respondeat superior precludes any negligent hiring claims against an employer, absent special circumstances.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court looked favorably on the 1974 case of Tindall, which held that an employer’s admission that an employee was acting within the course and scope of employment precludes negligent hiring claims. Tindall v. Enderle, 162 Ind. App. at 530, 320 N.E.2d at 768. Like the Court in Tindall, the Supreme Court in Sedam reasoned that allowing both negligent hiring and respondeat superior claims would prejudice the employer when both claims are based on the same negligent act and seek the same result, employer liability. Id.
The Court’s holding is also consistent with Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act given that once an employer stipulates that its employee was acting in the course and scope of employment, the employer assumes indirect liability. If a jury were allowed to allocate fault under both theories, the employer could be assessed fault in excess of the employee’s negligence it already assumed in full. Conversely, a plaintiff’s fault remains unchanged whether an employee, employer, or a combination of the two is responsible for the injury. The Comparative Fault Act sought to avoid these situations and the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Sedam noted that.
Precluding claims of negligent hiring after assuming liability under a theory of respondeat superior prohibits employers from having fault assessed twice against the employer for the same actions.
This area of law regarding theories of liability must be applied carefully, and each case is different. Consult an Indiana lawyer if you have questions about this area of the law. Any NCS lawyer can assist you with your case involving these issues.