COA rules that negligent hiring claim against Pizza Hut can proceed

A negligent hiring claim against Pizza Hut can continue to move through Jefferson Circuit Court after the Indiana Court of Appeals found Tuesday that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of the pizza chain.

On Aug. 24, 2012, Amanda Parker’s vehicle collided with the rear of David Hamblin’s scooter on State Road 62, knocking Hamblin into the road and causing Ralph Bliton to run over Hamblin with his vehicle. Hamblin died a short time later.

Dale Sedam, Kim Sedam and Bryan Norris, who are collectively representing Hamblin’s estate, filed a wrongful death suit against Bliton, Parker and Pizza Hut, which was Parker’s employer at the time of the accident. Parker was acting in her official capacity as a Pizza Hut delivery driver when she struck Hamblin. 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 2015 in Jefferson Circuit Court, arguing that the trial court should enter judgment in their favor on the negligent hiring claim because Pizza Hut had already admitted that Parker was acting within the scope of her work as a delivery driver when the accident occurred. Because of that admission, Pizza Hut said it could only be held liable for negligence under the theory of respondeat superior. The trial court subsequently granted Pizza Hut’s motion.

Hamblin’s estate appealed, arguing that the Jefferson Circuit Court erred when it found that the estate could only proceed with the negligence claim only under the theory of respondeat superior.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in its Tuesday opinion, writing that existing jurisprudence does not always preclude a party from pursuing both a negligent hiring claim and a negligence claim under the theory of respondeat superior.

In its appeal, the estate pointed to the decision 1907 case of Broadstreet v. Hall, 168 Ind. 192, 80 N.E. 145 (1907), in which the Indiana Supreme Court found that it was permissible for a jury to find a business owner vicariously liable for the negligent acts of his son and to find him liable for negligently trusting his son when he knew his reputation for recklessness.

Under stare decisis, the Court of Appeals wrote that it was bound to apply the Broadstreet decision to the negligence claims against Pizza Hut.

Further, the appellate court pointed to the Indiana Comparative Fault Act, which establishes that “in a jury trial, the trial court shall ‘instruct the jury’ to ‘determine the percentage of fault of the claimant, of the defendants, and of any person who a nonparty.’”

“Under the Comparative Fault Act, it would be illogical to disallow a cause of action that could result in the allocation of additional fault to a tortfeasor,” the court wrote.

The appellate court reversed the Jefferson Circuit Court’s motion for partial summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The case is Dale Sedam, Kim Sedam, and Bryan Norris, as co-personal representatives of the Estate of David C. Hamblin, deceased v. 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC doing business as Pizza Hut #013413, Amanda Parker individually and as an employee of 2JR Pizza Entereprises, LLC, and Ralph Bliton, 39A05-1602-CT-296.

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