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When Can I Be Sued For The Acts Of My Employees?

May 30, 2018 By John Torgenson

At Torgenson Law, when we begin representing a new personal injury client, our first mission is to determine who will be liable for damages. Obviously, our first instinct is to identify the individual who actually caused the injury, as he or she is directly liable for our client’s injury. However, our investigation does not end there. Depending on the circumstances of the injury, the negligent individual’s employer may be vicariously liable for its employee’s negligence as well. In Arizona, this doctrine of liability is known as respondeat superior, which means “let the master answer.” In short, an employer will be vicariously liable for the wrongful acts of its employees when those acts occur within the course and scope of employment.

On its face, this liability doctrine seems relatively straightforward: If an employee negligently causes personal injuries while he or she is at work, the employer is liable. However, it is not as simple as that. Here are some questions one must ask to effectively assert a vicarious liability claim against an employer.

Did an Employment Relationship Exist?

The key factor in determining whether an employment relationship existed is whether the employer has the right to control or direct the individual’s actions. Now, this does not require that there be an employment contract, nor must the employer compensate the employee for his services. Therefore, even interns and volunteers can be “employees” for the purposes of vicarious liability. With that said, it is important to show that the employee was under the control or direction of the employer when the injury occurred.

Did the Wrongful Act Occur Within the Course and Scope of Employment?

In Arizona, there are three factors considered to determine if an employee’s act occurred within the scope of his employment: (1) Whether the conduct was the type he was employed to perform; (2) whether the conduct occurred within the time and space limits authorized by the employer; and (3) whether the conduct was done in furtherance of the employer’s business.

Each of these factors can be established if there is evidence that the employer specifically required or instructed the employee to perform certain job responsibilities. For example, if a pizza delivery person is instructed to deliver a pizza to an address, runs a red light, and causes an injury, his employer, the pizza restaurant, will be vicariously liable for those damages. On the other hand, if the same pizza delivery person decides to pick up groceries on his way back to the pizza restaurant, these personal activities typically will not fall within the scope of employment.

Additionally, employers will be vicariously liable for acts that are incidental to that employment. To illustrate, if a bouncer at a bar negligently or intentionally causes harm to a patron while kicking them out of the bar, the bar itself will be vicariously liable. While if the bouncer committed similar wrongful acts on his day off at a different bar, his employer would likely not be vicariously liable.

To convince a jury that it is not liable, an employer may argue that it specifically forbade the activity that caused the injury. Perhaps, the pizza restaurant had a strict policy against running red lights, or the bar prohibited intentionally injuring patrons that were kicked out of the bar. However, Arizona law is clear that even an employee’s wrongful acts are in direct conflict with an employer’s policies, this does not take the employee outside the scope of employment. The employer can still be held vicariously liable.

As Phoenix injury lawyers, we know that it is your legal right to be compensated when you are injured due to the negligence of another. Under certain circumstances, an employer as opposed to a negligent employee may be responsible for your personal injury compensations. These types of cases require the skills of an experienced legal team like Torgenson Law. If you or a loved one is injured, do not hesitate to call (602) 726-0747. We will not leave a stone unturned when it comes to your personal injury needs.

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John Torgenson

After high school, John attended the University of Utah, graduating in 2001. John then attended his dream school, Notre Dame Law School, where he graduated, with honors, in 2004. John is licensed to fight in court for real people in the State of Arizona, the United States Federal District Court of Arizona, and the 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Before establishing what is now Torgenson Law, John practiced in the litigation group at Fennemore Craig, the oldest law firm in Arizona, and one of the largest firms in the Southwest. Having practiced at Fennemore Craig in both the defense and plaintiff’s practice areas gives John a complete perspective of the litigation process, and valuable insight into how to efficiently and effectively advance his clients’ interests. His unique and balanced background enhances his credibility with defense lawyers, insurers, and defendants as well as with judges and arbitrators.