Torts Practice Question 2

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Torts: Negligence

A woman works for a catering company during the day to help pay for the classes she takes at night at a local community college. As part of her duties, the woman often drives a company van used to deliver food and supplies to and from events. One day on the way home from an event, the woman was returning supplies to her company’s office when she stopped at a local coffee shop. She ordered a cup of coffee and sat down at a table. The woman spent about thirty minutes at the table studying notes for her class later that night. As she was leaving the shop’s parking lot, she collided with another vehicle driven by an elderly man. The elderly man then sued both the woman and the catering company.

Is the catering company vicariously liable to the elderly man?

A: Yes, because the woman was acting within the scope of her employment.

B: Yes, because the woman is an employee of the catering company.

C: No, because the woman was running a personal errand.

D: No, because the catering company was not negligent in hiring the woman.

Answer and Explanation

A is correct. Vicarious liability occurs when one person commits a tort against a third party, and another person is liable to the third party for the act. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the torts of an employee if the acts occur within the scope of the employee’s employment. An employee on a delivery or on a business trip for his employer may commit a tort while deviating from the employer’s business to run a personal errand. If the deviation is minor in time and geographic area, the employee will still be considered to be acting within the scope of employment. This is known as a detour. However if the detour is extended, it may be considered a frolic, which is no longer within the scope of employment. In this instance, the woman only took a brief detour for a cup of coffee and then continued on her way to return the van and supplies to work. Therefore, the woman was still acting within the scope of employment, and the catering company can be held vicariously liable for the tort she committed.

B is incorrect. An employer is not always liable for any tort of an employee, only for torts committed by employees acting within the scope of employment. It is not enough that the woman is merely an employee.

C is incorrect. Personal errands that are only minor detours may still be covered within the scope of employment. Here the woman briefly stopped, and then continued her duties.

D is incorrect. An employer may be held liable for their own negligence in hiring or supervising employees and independent contractors. However, this is not vicarious liability, liability for another’s negligence. It is instead negligence of the employer directly.

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