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Indiana Supreme Court Finds Negligent Hiring Claims Are Improper When Employers Admit Employee Was Acting Within Scope Of Employment

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By Codie Ross

November 21, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeals decision issued earlier this year when, on October 31, 2017, it found that employers cannot be liable for negligent hiring when they admit that their employees were working in the scope of employment when an allegedly negligent act occurred.

The case, Sedam et. al. as Personal Representatives of the Estate of David Hamblin v. 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC d/b/a Pizza Hut, Amanda Parker, and Ralph Bliton, No. 39S05-1703-CT-171, was an extremely positive ruling for the Defense Bar, as it overturned a contentious decision issued by the Indiana Court of Appeals in January of 2017. In its decision, the Court of Appeals relied on the principle of Stare Decisis in deferring to an over century old case, Broadstreet v. Hall, 80 N.E. 145 (Ind. 1907). That decision was, in essence, an invitation for the Indiana Supreme Court to revisit the issue with a more modern lens. Indeed, the Court did.

The case stems from an August 24, 2012 accident involving the vehicle being driven by Pizza Hut employee, Amanda Parker, which collided with the rear of a moped being operated by the deceased Plaintiff, David Hamblin. The collision knocked Hamblin into the road, where he was then run over by Co-Defendant Ralph Blinton. Hamblin eventually died as a result of the accident. His estate filed a wrongful death suit against Bliton, Parker and Pizza Hut (for whom Parker was delivering pizza at the time of the incident). Despite Pizza Hut’s admission that Parker was acting within the scope of her employment during the accident, the estate later amended the suit to allege that Pizza Hut negligently hired, trained, supervised and retained Parker.

Pizza Hut and Parker filed a motion for partial summary judgment in March of 2015 in Jefferson Circuit Court, arguing that the trial court should enter judgment in their favor on the negligent hiring claim because Pizza Hut already admitted that Parker was acting within the scope of her employment.  The trial court granted the motion. On appeal, however, the trial court was overruled as a result of the Court of Appeals’ reliance on Broadstreet, supra and the principle of Stare Decisis.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted Pizza Hut’s petition for transfer and entertained arguments from the parties as well as amica curae briefs from the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association. In siding with Pizza Hut, the Supreme Court noted that, “there is a line of Indiana precedent spanning nearly five decades holding that an employer’s admission that an employee was acting within the course and scope of his employment precludes negligent hiring claims. This outcome recognizes that a respondeat superior claim necessarily involves an act within the scope of employment, whereas negligent hiring claims require an act outside the scope of employment.”

The Court went on, writing, “To allow both claims would serve only to prejudice the employer, confuse the jury, and waste judicial resources when ultimately the result—that the employer is liable—is the same and the employer has stipulated as much. Such an admission exposes an employer to liability for any and all fault assessed to the employee’s negligence, and thus a negligent hiring claim becomes duplicative since a plaintiff may not recover twice for the same damage.”

Analysis

The decision is positive for business owners who have been sued for the negligent acts of their employees while working in the scope of their employment. It prevents a two-pronged attack, and forces Plaintiffs to choose a more focused litigation path, thus making issues easier to address. If you have any questions regarding this recent decision or its impact on business, please contact any member of our Retail, Hospitality and Entertainment Facilities Practice Group.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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