South-Western Legal Studies in Business

City Not Liable for Torts by Employees Committed During Work Hours Due to Deviation from Duties
Description Appeals court held that torts committed by city employees were not within the scope of employment. Therefore their employer could not be held liable for their acts, even though the acts were during work hours and they appeared to have authority to perform the actions in question.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Respondeat Superior; Vicarious Liability; Torts
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Brown used to work for Hoblitzell, a contractor. Angry at his former boss, Brown got Barnhart and Myshrall, a city police officer and a city building inspector, to go to a job site where Hoblitzell was working, identify themselves as building inspectors, and tell him his work was illegal and going to be shut down. After a nasty exchange, Hoblitzell ceased work for three days while he arranged for county building inspectors to come check his work and be assured everything was ok. Hoblitzell sued the three men and the city Barnhart and Myshrall worked for on the basis of respondeat superior. The trial court held that the city could not be held liable as their employer. Hoblitzell appealed.

Affirmed. The city employees were not acting within the scope of their employment, so the city did not have respondeat superior liability for negligence and interference with prospective economic advantage. “Respondeat superior is based on a deeply rooted sentiment that it would be unjust for an enterprise to disclaim responsibility for injuries occurring in the course of its characteristic activities.” The law is clear that “an employer will not be held vicariously liable of an employee’s malicious or tortuous conduct if the employee substantially deviates from the employment duties for personal purposes.” That was the case here, even those these actions occurred during working hours.

Citation Hoblitzell v. City of Ione, 2003 WL 21449876 (Ct. App., Calif., 2003)

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