South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Criminal Conviction of Employee in Vicarious Liability Suit Against Employer Not Admissible as Evidence
Description Georgia high court held that in a suit where a customer sued an employer for an attack the customer suffered by the employer’s employees, the trial court properly excluded evidence of the criminal trial of the employees as the suit was against the employer, not the employees, and punitive damages could be awarded.
Topic Torts
Key Words Punitive Damages; Vicarious Liability
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Crane Brothers was hired to dig a well for May. Two of Crane’s employees attacked May. One was convicted of battery; the other was acquitted. Crane sued May on the debt for the well; May counterclaimed to hold Crane liable in respondeat superior for its employees’ attack. A jury awarded Crane damages on the contract claim and awarded May $470 compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages on the tort claim. The appeals court reversed the punitive damages judgment because the trial court excluded evidence about the criminal trials and conviction of one of the employees. May appealed.

Reversed. The employer was vicariously liable, under the theory of respondeat superior for the assault and battery committed by its employees. The employer bore no risk of punishment by the criminal justice system. “An award of punitive damages is not intended to punish conduct, but to punish or, as in a case such as this one, to deter a defendant. The employee who was convicted of a crime for his attack on May was not a defendant in this case, so whether the employee has been punished is irrelevant to the goal of deterring the defendant, the employer, from permitting such behavior on the part of its employees.” The employer has no right to present as mitigating evidence the conviction of its employee for the conduct on which the suit is based.

Citation May v. Crane Brothers, Inc., 576 S.E.2d 286 (Sup. Ct., Ga., 2003)

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