Justices: Employer’s admission limits theories of recovery

Indiana precedent does not allow both a respondeat superior and negligent hiring claim against an employer to proceed if the employer has admitted their employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment when the negligence occurred, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in an opinion that upheld partial summary judgment for Pizza Hut.

While making deliveries for Pizza Hut in August 2012, Amanda Parker collided with the back of David Hamblin’s scooter, knocking him into the street and putting him in the path of Ralph Bliton. Hamblin died from his injuries, and his estate brought a wrongful death suit against Parker, Bliton and Pizza Hut, alleging his death was caused by Pizza Hut’s negligent hiring, training and supervision of Parker. The suit also alleged Parker was negligent and that Pizza Hut was liable for that negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Pizza Hut moved for partial summary judgment in the Jefferson Circuit Court, arguing that because it admitted Parker was acting within the course and scope of her employment, it could only be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The trial court agreed and granted the motion for partial summary judgment

However, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision last year, finding that Broadstreet v. Hall, 168 Ind. 192, 80 N.E. 145 (1907), controlled, so the estate could pursue both theories of recovery. The panel also found that outcome was more consistent with Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act.

The Indiana Supreme Court, excluding Justice Christopher Goff, heard oral arguments in the estate’s appeal in May, then upheld the grant of partial summary judgment to Pizza Hut in a Tuesday opinion, 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, et al., 39S05-1703-CT-171.

Justice Mark Massa, who wrote for the unanimous court, first noted that the justices found the case of Tindall v. Enderle, 162 Ind. App. 524, 320 N.E. 2d 764 (1974), not Broadstreet, controlling. The Tindall decision began a line of precedent that holds that an employer’s admission that their employee was acting within the course and scope of his employment precludes negligent hiring claims, Massa wrote.

That question did not ever come before the Broadstreet court, he said.

“Under each claim, the plaintiff seeks the same result – employer liability – and recovery is based on the same negligent act – the employee’s,” Massa wrote. “To allow both claims would serve only to prejudice the employer, confuse the jury, and waste judicial resources when ultimately the result – that the employer is liable – is the same and the employer has stipulated as much.”

Further, the high court found the rule in Tindall to be consistent with Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act and the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 317. Thus, the partial grant of summary judgment to Pizza Hut was affirmed.

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