Within the Scope of Employment: Vicarious Liability and Maritime Law

By Doyice Cotten

6872723627_fcb1c6797c_mAny number of parties may be named as defendants in a negligence suit. The obvious defendant is the party that committed the act leading to the injury – generally an employee of an organization or corporation. The supervisor or administrator who serves as the superior of the employee is also frequently named. And commonly, the employer of the employee (generally the “deep pocket”)  is frequently named based on the doctrine of respondeat superior (also called vicarious liability.)

The doctrine of respondeat superior states that “the negligence of the employee is imputed to the corporate entity if the employee was acting within the scope of the the employee’s responsibility and authority and if the act was not grossly negligent, willful/wanton, and did not involve malfeasance” (van der Smissen, 1990).

In a recent maritime case (Kadylak v. Royal Caribbean Cruise, LTD., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32320, citing Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., 2014), the federal court addressed the issue of within the course of employment relative to vicarious liability – exactly what determines whether an action was performed within the course of employment. Obviously, this is important if an employer can be held liable for the negligent actions of an employee.

The court listed four factors to be considered:

  1. Is it the kind of action he is employed to perform?
  2. Does it occur substantially within the authorized time and space of employment?
  3. Is it actuated, at least partially, by a purpose to serve the employer (master)?
  4. In the event force was used by the employee, was this use of force unexpectable by the employer?

The court also cited another court (Jackson Marine Corp. v. Blue Fox, 1988) which proposed criteria for determining if an act was within the course of employment. These criteria were similar to the Franza factors:

  1. The time, place, and purpose of the act.
  2. Its similarity to actions the employee is authorized to perform.
  3. Whether the act is commonly performed by the employee.
  4. The extent of departure from normal methods.
  5. The previous relations between the parties.
  6. Whether the employer would reasonably expect that such an act would be performed.

The Franza court explained that the existence of an agency relationship would be a factual matter for the jury, however, a court can grant summary judgment in favor of the employer if no reasonable juror could conclude that the employee’s negligent act was with the scope of employment.

In the case at hand (Kadylak v. Royal Caribbean), the plaintiff had been injured while motorcycling with a passenger on shore with an employee of the ship, during the free time of the employee for the personal enjoyment of the employee. The court observed that the employee was not on duty and was not wearing a ship uniform or name tag; it granted summary judgment ruling that the employee was not acting within the scope of employment and that Royal Caribbean was not vicariously liable.

Photo Credit: Thanks to Kansasphoto on Flickr.