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Whether a party is liable for the act of a tortfeasor on the basis that the tortfeasor was the party's employee in the course and scope of employment depends upon the proof and assessment of several factors, including payment of wages by the employer, the employer's power of control, the employee's duty to perform the particular act, the time, place and purpose of the act in relation to service of the employer, the relationship between the employee's act and the employer's business, the benefits received by the employer from the act, the motivation of the employee for performing the act, and the reasonable expectation of the employer that the employee would perform the act.
John Reed was injured while helping Chuck Williams, an alleged employee of the corporation, move a refrigerator. He sued the corporation as being vicariously liable for the tort of its "employee," who was a lessee of a room from the owners of the corporation and who had done sporadic work for the store, but never as a full-time employee. The trial jury found that the lessee was an employee of the corporation at the time of the injury and that his negligence caused Reed’s injuries. The court of appeal, although concluding from the record that the lessee was an employee of the corporation, reversed and remanded for a new trial because the trial court had failed to instruct the jury on the course and scope element of an employer's vicarious liability for the torts of its employee, and had failed to include this element in the interrogatories to the jury. On remand from the court, the court of appeal again reversed.
Was Williams an employee of the House of Decor in the course and scope of that employment at the time of the accident?
The court affirmed. The court found that Williams did not receive any wages from the House of Decor. The corporation had no power of control or power of discharge over his work activities. The act of moving the refrigerator occurred at a time when the business operated by the corporation was closed and at a place away from the corporation's business premises. The moving of the refrigerator from an apartment occupied by Williams to another residence provided no apparent benefit to the corporation and had no relationship with the corporation's business. Indeed, the corporation was just about to close down the business permanently, and it is difficult to perceive any purpose in moving the refrigerator that was in any way related to the corporation. The court concluded that conclude that Williams' act of moving the refrigerator, during the performance of which Reed was injured, was not performed by an employee of House of Decor in the course and scope of employment.