Mesa AZ | What is Respondeat Superior Liability

For whatever reason, Latin terms remain very commonplace in law. One Latin term that is often important to personal injury cases is Respondeat Superior. What does this term mean, and why might it be important to a personal injury claim?

Imagine a woman named Sharon is shopping at a grocery store called Green Grocer. Sharon is in an aisle, examining some canned goods. One of Green’s employees, a stocker named Tom, is on a ladder placing boxes of canned goods on the top shelf of Sharon’s same aisle. Tom negligently drops a box of cans while he is trying to stack it on top of another box. Unfortunately, the box falls on Sharon. Sharon is quite seriously injured, and she has to spend some time in the hospital. Later, Sharon wishes to bring a personal injury claim to cover the cost of her medical expenses.

This is where Respondeat Superior comes in. Sharon could sue Tom, as he was directly responsible for causing the cans to fall on her. However, because of Respondeat Superior, Sharon may also be able to sue Green Grocer.

In broad terms, Respondeat Superior allows an individual to bring a claim against an employer for the actions of its employee if the employee was “acting within the scope” of his or her employment. In other words, as long as an employee was ‘on duty,’ so to speak, at his or her job when he or she injured another person, that person may be able to bring a claim against the employer rather than the employee. This aspect of the law is based on the idea that an employer should be responsible for the actions of its employees.

However, as already noted, the employer will only be responsible for its employee’s actions if they were “within the scope” of employment. This makes it very important to understand the meaning of “within the scope.”

Arizona’s civil jury instructions provide three requirements to be met before for an employee’s action can be said to fall “within the scope” of his or her employment:

  1. The act was the kind that the employee or agent was employed or authorized to perform;
  2. The act occurred substantially within the authorized time and space limit of the employment or authority; and
  3. The act was motivated at least in part by a purpose to serve the employer or principal.

Now, let’s go back to the hypothetical situation with Tom and Green Grocer. When Tom dropped the box of cans that fell on Sharon, was he acting within the scope of his employment? The answer is likely to be yes. Tom was re-stocking the top shelf of the aisle with canned goods. He was one of Green’s stockers, so this activity was quite clearly of “the kind that [he] was employed to perform.” Further, Tom was inside of Green’s store, working during his regular shift. So, he was acting within the “authorized time and space limit” of his employment. Finally, Tom was clearly re-stocking the top shelf in order to serve his employer – it was likely a direct assignment from his boss.

From the above, it appears Green Grocer – not just Tom – could be liable for Sharon’s injuries. As such, Sharon could bring a personal injury against Green Grocer for Tom’s negligent actions.

In very general terms, this is how Respondeat Superior works. However, in many cases matters will not be as simple as they were with Tom and Green Grocer, and in most cases the assistance of an experienced attorney will be valuable. If the reader has questions about claims based on Respondeat Superior, please call.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney after an accident, call 480.461.5300.