Law School Case Brief
Patterson v. Blair - 172 S.W.3d 361 (Ky. 2005)
The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that as to intentional torts, the master is held liable for any intentional tort committed by the servant where its purpose, however misguided, is wholly or in part to further the master's business. Thus, if the servant acts from purely personal motives which are in no way connected with the employer's interests, he is considered in the ordinary case to have departed from his employment, and the master is not liable.
Plaintiff Tommie Lee Patterson brought suit against Thomas Blair, Jr. and Tommy Blair, Inc. Plaintiff alleged several causes of action against defendant and claimed the corporation was vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its employee, defendant Blair, Jr. A jury awarded plaintiff damages of $ 42,465.18 and found that the corporation was vicariously liable for Blair, Jr.'s conduct. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals held that Blair, Jr. was not acting within the scope of his employment in repossessing plaintiff's vehicle, and therefore concluded that the corporation could not be held liable under respondeat superior. The entire Court of Appeals panel, however, agreed that the trial court's denial of plaintiff's requested instruction on punitive damages was in error.
Was the employer vicariously liable for the acts of its employee, Thomas Blair, Jr.?
The high court noted that in Kentucky, the master was liable for any intentional tort committed by the servant where its purpose, however misguided, was wholly or in part to further the master's business. The evidence showed that the employer's owner knew that (1) the employee was looking for the truck; (2) the buyer would not voluntarily relinquish it; and (3) the buyer had threatened other employees during a prior failed attempt to repossess the truck. The owner's wealth of experience in the automobile business certainly made him aware of what could occur during automobile repossession. Although the act was criminal, it was not so outrageous as to indicate that the motive was a personal one. As the employee was acting to further the employer's business interests, and there was no evidence that he sought to serve any personal purpose by his actions, the jury properly found that the employer was vicariously liable.
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