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COA orders new trial on vicarious liability issue

July 13, 2016

A new jury will decide whether a Sony employee in Terre Haute was acting in the scope of his employment when he hit a security guard on the property while driving to recycle personal items on company property.

Bradley Brown, who worked for Sony DADC US Inc. as an operator in the DVD packaging department clocked out of work around 5:30 p.m. on March 23, 2012, and got into his car to drive to the company’s recycling center to drop off his recyclables. His windows were fogged up and he did not see Securitas security guard Mark Thompson, who was walking along a fence line to investigate a car parked in an improper area. Thompson also did not see Brown, and the car hit Thompson, injuring his knee.

Thompson was set to start a new job with a photography company a few weeks later, but says as a result of the accident he was no longer able to complete the job and remained as a security guard with Securitas.  

Sony had elected in the 1990s to become International Standards Organization certified, which required environmental practices and gave Sony a marketing advantage. It set up recycling bins on its property for employee use.

In a pretrial order, the court found as a matter of law that Sony was vicariously liable for Thompson’s injuries because Brown was within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. A jury awarded Thompson $500,000 in damages, but found him to be 50 percent at fault, so the verdict against Brown and Sony was reduced accordingly.

Sony appealed after the trial, arguing the court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment on the scope of employment issue.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Wednesday, ruling based on the evidence presented, there are conflicting facts or inferences that can be drawn as to whether Brown was acting in the scope of his employment with Sony at the time of the accident. His employment had nothing to do with recycling, and the recycling program was no longer discussed in annual audits to ascertain continued ISO 14001 certification, Judge James Kirsch wrote. The trial court had found that at the time, there are issues of material fact as to whether Brown’s purpose was to ifurther his employer’s business.

The appeals court remanded for a new trial, where the issue of vicarious liability is presented to the jury.

The judges also concluded that based on the evidence at trial, there was no evidence presented to support giving a jury instruction on lost earning capacity, so the trial court abused its discretion in doing so. New evidence could be presented that would support the giving of such an instruction at the new trial, Kirsch pointed out.

The case is Sony DADC US Inc. and Bradley J. Brown v. Mark Thompson, 84A01-1507-CT-892.
 

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