Fahrendorff by & Through Fahrendorff v. N. Homes

597 N.W.2d 905 (Minn. 1999)

 

RULE:

An employer is vicariously liable for the torts of an employee committed within the course and scope of employment. Such liability stems not from any fault of the employer, but from a public policy determination that liability for acts committed within the scope of employment should be allocated to the employer as a cost of engaging in that business.

FACTS:

Respondent operated a temporary crisis shelter for teens that provided 24-hour residential care. While staying at the house, appellant's daughter was sexually assaulted by a program counselor. The year before appellant's assault, two complaints were lodged against the employee alleging improper conduct toward female residents, but respondent determined that no disciplinary action was necessary. The employee was terminated and subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the assault. Appellant then filed a complaint against respondent alleging that it was liable for assault and battery, sexual abuse, and infliction of emotional distress under doctrines of respondeat superior and aiding and abetting. Respondent moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion concluding that the employee was not acting within the scope of employment when he committed the assault. The appellate court affirmed the judgment. Judgment was reversed and remanded.

ISSUE:

Was there a material question of fact on the issue of whether the employee's conduct, although illegal and prohibited by the employer, was nevertheless foreseeable, related to, and connected with acts otherwise within the scope of employment, such that the employer could be held vicariously liable for that conduct?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

An employer is vicariously liable for the torts of an employee committed within the course and scope of employment. Such liability stems not from any fault of the employer, but from a public policy determination that liability for acts committed within the scope of employment should be allocated to the employer as a cost of engaging in that business. An employer may be held liable for even the intentional misconduct of its employees when (1) the source of the attack is related to the duties of the employee, and (2) the assault occurs within work-related limits of time and place. The court concluded that the evidence raised a question of fact as to whether the employee's wrongful acts were foreseeable, related to and connected with acts otherwise within the scope of employment.

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