South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Employers Not Subject for Punitive Damages for Negligence in Supervising Employees
Description Mississippi high court held that an employer could be liable for damages for negligence in the supervision of an employee who committed an assault, but could not be subject to punitive damages because there was no malice or gross negligence on the part of the employer.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Master-Servant; Tort; Negligence; Punitive Damages
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Four minor boys who were attending a summer camp at a Salvation Army facility in Mississippi were sexually assaulted by Peters, a camp employee. The jury found that the Salvation Army was negligent in its training and supervision of Peters. Each child was awarded $30,000 in damages, for a total of $120,000. The jury assigned 5% liability to Peters, 10% to Flanagan, the manager of the camp, and 85% to the Salvation Army. The trial judge refused to allow the jury to consider if punitive damages should be awarded. Plaintiffs appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. "A master who places a servant in a position of trust or authority is responsible for the actions of his servant. …However, liability for compensatory damages does not signify that punitive damages must be assessed against an employer. In fact, punitive damages are never automatic. …When deciding whether to submit the issue of punitive damages to a trier of fact, the trial court looks at the totality of the circumstances to determine if a reasonable, hypothetical trier of fact would find either malice or gross neglect/reckless disregard." Here the trial court found no malice or gross negligence by the Salvation Army, so it properly ruled that punitive damages could not be considered by the jury.

Citation Doe v. The Salvation Army, 835 So.2d 76 (Sup. Ct., Miss., 2003)

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