Employer Not Liable For Upset Security Guard’s Actions (NY)

The doctrine of respondeat superior is intended to encourage employers to responsibly supervise their employees or risk being held vicariously liable for their employee’s conduct.  But a recent Appellate Division decision, Ali v. State of New York, reminds us that there are some situations where employers can successfully defend against such claims.

On a cold day in February 2009, a security guard for the New York State Compensation Board in Brooklyn received very sad news while talking on his cell phone; his grandmother had died.  The claimant was seated nearby on a wooden bench reading a newspaper in the waiting area.  The news of his grandmother’s death so upset the security guard that he marched into the waiting area and punched a wooden bench,  causing it to fall on the claimant.

The claimant filed a claim against the State of New York on the theory of respondeat superior.  The Court of Claims granted the State’s application to dismiss the claim.In affirming the Court of Claims’ decision, the Appellate Division held that even though the security guard was an employee of the State and was working at the time of the incident, the security guard was not acting in furtherance of his employment at the time of the incident. “The security guard was acting solely for personal motives unrelated to the [State’s] business at the time of the incident.”  There was no evidence to suggest that the security guard’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances.  As such, his employer was not held liable.

Thanks to Steve Kaye for his contribution to this post.  Please write to Mike Bono for more information.