In a decision that was released last month by the Indiana Supreme Court, the dismissal of a negligence lawsuit against a security company that employed a man who shot and paralyzed a woman while on the job was reversed, and the security company may be found liable for the woman’s injuries through a settlement or jury trial. This ruling appears to expand the breadth of claims that Indiana courts will allow to proceed to trial, possibly allowing Indiana personal injury and wrongful death victims to pursue more avenues to obtain compensation for their losses.
The appeal in Knighten v. Davis Security Service was filed based on an incident in East Chicago, Indiana, that occurred on August 7, 2010 when a security officer employed by a company that was hired to provide security for the housing complex shot a woman whom he had previously dated after the two had an argument that appeared to be related to personal issues between them. Before the shots were fired, the woman had damaged the entrance gate to the complex.
As a result of the shooting, the woman is now paralyzed from the waist down, and she filed a lawsuit against the man who shot her, the security company that employed him, and the housing authority that contracted with the company to provide security. At the center of the recent ruling was the woman’s claim against the security company that employed the man, and whether the company can be held financially accountable for the man’s conduct.
Indiana Law and The Legal Theory of Respondeat Superior
In some cases, an employer can be held accountable for the negligent acts of their employees through the legal theory of respondeat superior, sometimes referred to as vicarious liability. In an Indiana personal injury lawsuit, an employer can be liable for the negligent acts of an employee if the employee was acting “within the scope of their employment.” During the initial phases of this case, the claims against the security company and housing authority were thrown out because the judge found it impossible to dispute that the man was acting outside the scope of his employment when he fired at the woman during the course of their admittedly personal argument.
On appeal to the Indiana high court, it was found that the decision of whether an employee is acting within the scope of their employment is a question that must be decided by the jury if there are any disputed facts that could be decided one way or the other. The Court ruled that since the officer was armed with a firearm at the discretion of the security company, and the victim had damaged the security gate before the shots were fired, the issue of whether the officer was acting within the scope of his employment should be decided by a jury. As a result of the ruling, the victim may recover damages from the company that employed the security officer.
How this Ruling May Affect Other Indiana Negligence Cases
The Court’s ruling that a jury should decide whether the man was acting within the scope of his employment when the shooting occurred could represent a possible shift in Indiana law toward allowing more juries to decide what is within the scope of employment in a respondeat superior claim, as opposed to having judges decide the issue earlier in a case, as has happened more often in the past. This ruling could give Indiana negligence victims a greater opportunity to receive compensation for negligent acts performed on the job, especially when the action was performed by an employee with limited means and no insurance to enable them to pay a possible seven-figure judgment. Indiana accident and injury victims should always consult with a qualified attorney who follows developments in Indiana law to decide if they would like to file a lawsuit for damages.
Have You Been Injured?
If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligent or seemingly intentional acts of an employee while they are on the job, respondeat superior may allow you to sue the employer and the employee at the same time. The dedicated Indiana personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Parr, Richey, Obremskey, Frandsen & Patterson have years of experience getting fair compensation for our clients, and we know how recent developments in Indiana law can be used to help our clients get the compensation they deserve. At Parr, Richey, Obremskey, Frandsen & Patterson, we represent clients throughout the Midwest in negligence, wrongful death, and personal injury actions. Call us today at 888-532-7766 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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