When Can an Employer be Held Responsible for Employee’s Wrongdoing?

police_car_police_chase-1024x576There are many instances when an employer may be held liable for the actions of their employees, even when the former was completely uninvolved in the tort, or wrongdoing. This scenario is referred to as vicarious liability. The court must take several factors into consideration when dealing with a vicarious liability action, as evidenced by a Caddo Parish case involving a Sheriff and his Deputy.  

In an effort to arrest Damien Pea, who had multiple outstanding warrants, the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Shreveport Police Department put together an operation performed by members of a joint task force, referred to as Street Level Interdiction Unit (henceforth called SLIU). SLIU then requested the help of Pea’s girlfriend, Teketia Pipkins, who was told to bring Pea to a gas station and then exit her vehicle.  

On the day the operation took place, Pipkins drove Pea to the gas station and left her vehicle, as instructed, although she did not remove the keys from the ignition. Pea, who was in the passenger seat, subsequently moved to the driver’s seat and drove away. A high-speed chase between Pea and law enforcement commenced. 

During the chase, Pea was struck head on by a motor vehicle operated by Linda and Obie Weaver. Sadly, the Weavers died multiple days later as a consequence of their injuries, while Pea was pronounced as deceased on the scene. The Weaver’s children then filed a lawsuit against the city of Shreveport and multiple law enforcement officers, including Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator and Deputy Sheriff Earlton Parker, among others.

Sheriff Prator and Deputy Parker then filed a claim for summary judgment alleging they were entitled to a dismissal of all motions against them and further contending that Sheriff Prator was not vicariously responsible for the actions taken by Deputy Parker, as the former was not negligent. The First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo ultimately granted the motion for summary judgment as a basis for its finding that there was no genuine issue of fact that Deputy Parker was not liable and that Sheriff Prator was not vicariously responsible. This appeal to the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal follows. 

During the appeal, the Weaver’s children contended, in part, the District Court erred when it granted summary judgment. According to applicable law, summary judgment is appropriately granted when the pleadings, affidavits, and similar documents show there was no genuine issue of material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966. Additionally, a fact is considered material when its existence, or its nonexistence, could be crucial to the overall case, or cause of action. See Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc.  In this case, the Weaver’s children contend a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the attempted arrest of Pea and subsequent high-speed chase was due to a joint operation between the city of Shreveport and the sheriff. In other words, the essential issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the District Court erred in finding that Deputy Parker was not negligent during the planning and execution of Pea’s arrest or in the resulting chase. 

The Court of Appeal ultimately found that Deputy Parker was a member of SLIU, SLIU was his sole assignment at the attempted arrest of Pea, and he participated in the events that day. Additionally, the Court of Appeal found Deputy Parker admitted that he used the police radio to tell the other agents that he and another officer would take the lead in the operation. Thus, the Court of Appeal rejected the argument that Deputy Parker had limited involvement as a basis to acquit liability for either himself or Sheriff Prator. 

In summation, the Court of Appeal found the District Court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of the Weaver’s children, as it determined a genuine issue of material fact existed for whether Deputy Parker was negligent during the planning or execution of Pea’s attempted arrest, and the subsequent pursuit, and if vicarious liability existed on the part of Sheriff Prator for Deputy Parker’s actions or activities during the operation. 

As evidenced by this case, vicarious liability may turn on whether there was a sufficient connection between the employee’s job, his or her involvement, and the actual wrongdoing. Hiring a personal injury attorney with ample experience in these matters may be beneficial if you have any questions regarding whether you could be held liable for actions committed by your employees. 

Additional Sources: DANNY C. WEAVER, ET AL. versus CITY OF SHREVEPORT, ET AL. 

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Samantha Calhoun

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Vicarious Liability: Vicarious Liability Doesn’t Always Extend Liability for an Employees Actions — Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog 

Legal Boundaries and the Scope of Employment: Vicarious Liability Challenges in Car Wreck Cases

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