A repairman arrives to your house in a company van. He rings the doorbell. You answer and let him into your home. You expected him. Your cable is not working and you called for service. Instead of making repairs, the repairman pulls a knife and attacks you. This is the tragic set of events that recently happened to an elderly lady in Texas. When her family later went to check on her, they found her stabbed to death. Yes, the attacker was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But, no criminal punishment will ever bring back a loved one.
We live in angry times. In the last couple years, we’ve seen a huge rise in workplace assaults where someone suffers a personal injury. I’ve written in the past few months about Alabama law related to workers’ compensation for assault-related injuries. By that, I mean an employee is the one injured in an assault. One well-known recent workplace assault case even occurred here in Madison County. If you want to know more about whether or not employees injured in workplace assaults are covered by workers compensation in Alabama, you can read some of my past posts on the topic.
I wrote last week about a different assault topic. If a customer is assaulted and injured by another customer (or guest) at a business, can the injured customer pursue a personal injury claim against that business? When is a business liable for assault-related injuries where a guest injures a customer? It’s a tricky issue. It’s often difficult to pursue a personal injury case in these situations. In my post last week, I discussed a hotel injury case where an angry person in the parking lot shot someone. It can be very difficult to hold a business liable for a criminal act committed by a guest or customer who simply comes on to the property. You can read my post from last week if you have questions about that issue.
Today, I’m going to write about a different assault and injury situation — Situations where a customer is intentionally assaulted and injured by an actual employee of the business. We are not discussing employees who negligently hurt someone — Like a delivery driver who negligently ran a red light and caused a car accident. Or, maybe a store clerk who negligently dropped a box on a customer. Those cases are easy. We are discussing bad employees who intentionally hurt customers.
The Texas case I mentioned at the beginning of this post involved a cable company repairman who went to a customer’s home. People are most vulnerable in their home. In those situations, elderly or infirm people may have no help or means of escape. That’s why you should always be careful about who you allow in your home. But, an assault can occur anywhere. It can occur when a repairman comes to your home. It can also occur when you are in the company’s store. Too often, an intentional assault occurs in a fit of road rage on an Alabama highway. When is a company responsible for the intentional acts of its employees that cause personal injury? It is easier to hold a company responsible when the intentional act is committed by an employee rather than a guest. Here are four ways a company may be held responsible for the intentional criminal acts of its own employees:
- A Company May Be Responsible For Intentional Employee Actions Committed In The Line And Scope Of Employment.
- A Company May Be Responsible For Intentional Employee Actions Committed In Furtherance Of The Employer’s Business.
- A Company May Be Responsible When It Participates, Authorizes, Or Ratifies, The Intentional Actions.
- A Company May Be Responsible When It Negligently Hires, Trains, Or Supervises, The Criminal Employee.
A recent Alabama Supreme Court case discussed these four ways a company could be held responsible for the intentional criminal acts of its employees. The case is Synergies3 Tec Services, LLC v. Corvo. In that case, two DIRECTTV employees came to a customer’s house to install television service. The workers entered the home. While in the home, they stole a diamond ring. Clearly, you could sue the workers individually. Is DIRECTTV also liable for their intentional theft? That was the question for the court.
How does our law define “actions committed in the line and scope of employment” or “actions committed in furtherance of the employer’s business?” The question is basically whether the employee was motivated solely by his own personal interests or, at least partially, by the interests of his employer. This can be a difficult question to answer in some cases. In the Synergies case involving two DIRECTTV employees who stole a customer’s diamond, the Alabama Supreme Court held those actions were a “marked and unusual deviation” from the company’s cable business. Thus, the cable company was not responsible.
In reaching its conclusion, our Supreme Court cited several other interesting cases. In one cited case, a daycare employee plotted the kidnapping of a child. The daycare was not held liable because no facts put it on notice of any potential misconduct. In another cited case, a trucking company employee chased someone and threw a snake on him. Yes, that really happened. The Court held the trucking company was not liable because that conduct was an unusual deviation not in furtherance of its business.
Again, these are often difficult questions. If you are injured, you need a lawyer who will really investigate the factual details. The answer can often turn on key details.
The fourth way a company may be held liable for the intentional act of an employee involves negligent hiring, training or supervision. These can also be difficult questions. The issue of negligence hinges on “foreseeability.” Let’s look again at the DIRECTTV theft case. Was it foreseeable that these employees might commit a theft? In most cases, the answer would be no. But, the DIRECTTV case was different. In that case, the bad employee had a criminal history of theft prior to his employment with DIRECTTV that should have been detected in a proper background check. Based on the facts, our Court held sufficient evidence existed for the jury to decide this issue at trial. At our office, we have frequently investigated negligent hiring and supervision claims in both nursing home injury cases and trucking accident cases. Both of those personal injury cases often involve an employee guilty of misconduct that harmed someone.
Can you hold a business responsible for the criminal act of its employee that causes personal injury? Yes, in some cases you can. In these cases, the issue turns on detailed factual questions. You need a lawyer who will spend the time to investigate the claims completely.
We are Alabama personal injury lawyers based in downtown Huntsville. From our office, we represent people statewide. We have prepared and pursued cases for our injured clients in courtrooms across Alabama. If you have questions about a personal injury matter, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions. Our consultations are always free and confidential.