The case presented for analysis discusses Superior Electrical’s (further referred to as Superior) negligent hiring practices that created an unreasonable risk and caused harm to others. Superior failed to verify one of its employee’s (Cory Jones) documents to confirm that he indeed held a valid driver’s license and did not have a record of reckless driving. Even though at the beginning of Jones’ employment, those facts were irrelevant, they became important upon his promotion.
On one of the days when Jones was supposed to take the company’s vehicle home, he caused a road accident. The employee collided with another car, which led to severe injuries of the woman and her daughter, who were in the vehicle at the moment. The victim, Carolyn Carson, wants to hold Superior responsible for the physical harm that she and her daughter had to endure on the grounds of respondent superior and negligent hiring.
Barnes et al. (2015) define negligence as a person’s failure to behave in such a way that it would prevent the creation of avoidable risks of harm to other members of society. Negligence law hinges on the assumption that each individual must act out of reason and ordinary prudence.
Therefore, when brought to court, a person’s conduct is held to either the “reasonable person” or “reasonable care” standard. Negligence law finds a broad range of applications, which includes business settings and issues such as negligent hiring. In the State of Georgia, an employer may be held liable for negligent hiring only if there is evidence that the accident was foreseeable (American Bar Association, 2010).
Namely, an employer must have or should have been aware of their employee’s propensity to conduct themselves in a way that would cause harm to others. In other words, the two key elements of negligent hiring are reasonable care and a breach of duty.
Returning to the present case, it is apparent that it contains both elements of negligent hiring. Firstly, there was a standard of reasonable care in place when Superior was hiring new employees. Even though Jones was initially hired as an apprentice electrician, meaning that he would not have to drive for work, it would still be reasonable behavior to verify Jones’ claims.
The general standard for all electricians was to have a valid driver’s license, and despite his entry position in the company, Jones should not have been an exemption to the rule. When the employee was promoted to an electrician, Superior once again failed to fulfill its duty and check his credentials. Only later did the company learn that Jones’ license had been suspended due to numerous traffic violations.
Based on this information, it is safe to conclude that Superior will be held liable for negligent hiring. As Barnes et al. (2015) explain, a duty of reasonable care is confirmed if the plaintiff is found among those who would be foreseeably at risk of the defendant’s actions. Barnes et al. (2015) also add that many courts only vaguely define who foreseeable “victims” are, which leaves it open to interpretation during court proceedings. However, in the present case, Jones’ legal history has a direct relationship to his work duties.
In contrast, Maloney v. B & L Motor Freight, Inc. was a far more ambiguous case. The plaintiff sued the company because one of its drivers sexually assaulted her when she was hitchhiking. B & L Motor Freight, Inc. claimed that its employees were not supposed to be providing rides to hitchhikers in the first place. Besides, the defendant’s role in revealing its employee’s history of sexual assault was not directly related to said employee’s work responsibilities. Therefore, while B & L Motor Freight, Inc. had very little chance to foresee its employee behavior, Superior was perfectly able to check Jones’ background and prevent the accident.
The second claim that the plaintiff, Carson, makes in court is Superior’s liability for respondent behavior. Respondent superior is a Latin phrase that translates to “let the master respond.” In the U.S. business law, the doctrine of respondent superior means that a company has a vicarious responsibility for the actions of its agents. The doctrine is recognized in the state of Georgia, where employers can be held liable for car and motorcycle accidents caused by their employees’ reckless driving (O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2).
Based on this information, it is possible to outline the following elements of respondent superior:
- an employee violated the law and caused harm to others;
- while being in the “course and scope” of their employment;
- with an intent to benefit the company.
All three elements of respondent superior can be found in the present case. Firstly, Jones was a negligent driver who single-handedly caused the collision of two vehicles. His reckless driving violated the law, be it speeding or other rules. Besides, it has been proven that he caused harm to the plaintiff, Carson, and her daughter. Secondly, since it was Jones’ responsibility to keep the vehicle at home when he was driving it on his way from work, he was still fulfilling his duties.
Hence, it is safe to assume that even though the accident happened after hours, Jones’ actions were still in the “course and scope” of his employment. Thirdly, with said actions, the employee was benefiting the company. Namely, he was responsible for ensuring the safety of the corporate vehicle by keeping it at home overnight. Apart from that, letting the employee keep the car might have meant that he had more flexibility in terms of fulfilling orders, which also benefited Superior, the defendant.
To make charges, one needs to study state law, O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2. In accordance with the law, “masters,” or employers, can be held vicariously liable for injuries or deaths caused by their “servants,” or employees. However, it needs to be proven that the employee was not running a personal errand when the accident happened. For example, in Raleigh v. Performance Plumbing and Heating, the plaintiff suffered severe injuries in a road accident caused by a person working for Performance Plumbing and Heating.
Indeed, driving for work was one of the employee’s responsibilities. The court proceedings state that the man would frequently get job materials and company tools from the construction trailers to job sites and back. However, the said employee was found to be acting out of the scope of his employment as he was driving his own truck on the way home. While doing that, he was not benefiting the company. In contrast, the present case makes it obvious that Jones was still fulfilling his duty when he was driving the company’s vehicle home. Therefore, Superior will be charged with both negligent hiring and respondent superior.
American Bar Association. (2010). Negligent hiring and negligent retention: A state by state analysis. Web.
Barnes, A. J., Bowers, L. T., Mallor, J., & Langvardt, A. (2015). Business law. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.