Question: After watching a movie at the local cinema, Kate and Demetrious decide to go out for a coffee. They decided to go to Sacred Grounds. Sacred Grounds is a coffee house located next to the cinema. Sacred Grounds closes at midnight. Kate and Demetrious walked in at 11:58 p.m. Hanni worked at Sacred Grounds. He had shut down all the equipment for the evening and told Kate and Demetrious that the store was closed. Demetrious told him that it was 11:58 and that the store should be open and that he was going call management to complain about the early closing. Unbeknownst to the owners of Sacred Grounds, Hanni had anger management issues. Hanni jumped over the counter and punched Demetrious in the face. Are the owners of Sacred Grounds liable for Hanni’s actions? What rule applies? Analyze the case and provide a conclusion. Your answer must be between two to four pages in length, double spaced, and 12-point Times New Roman Font.
It’s Not Midnight!
The case between Demetrious, Hanni and Sacred Grounds, does not only bring up the issue of assault, but also broaches the subject of when and if employers are responsible for the actions for their employees. Despite the fact that the owners of Sacred Grounds were not present in the shop to directly influence Hanni’s behavior, the concept of vicarious liability could still hold them liable.
In order to determine whether the owners of Sacred Grounds are responsible for Hanni’s actions through vicarious liability, one must first understand what vicarious liability is. Vicarious liability is when an employer is held liable for all actions of employees that fall within the scope of the agency (Goldman & Sigismond, 2011). In other words, this means that employers are responsible for employee actions, which can be deemed necessary to fulfill employment. Therefore, in order to determine whether vicarious liability exists, it must first be determined if Hanni’s actions fall within the scope of employment.
There are two main issues raised in this case. The first being that Hanni had cleaned all of the equipment and had closed before midnight and the second being Hanni’s actions of jumping over the counter and punching Demetrious in the face. Looking at the first issue, the owners of Sacred Grounds would hold vicarious liability, as closing the store is within Hanni’s duties as an employee. However, closing the store early is not a tort and therefore no legal ramifications would befall the parties.
Next Hanni’s actions of attacking Demetrious must be examined. Attacking any customer, for any reason is an action that falls outside of the scope of employment. This means that the owners of Sacred Grounds did not authorize the actions of Hanni, nor would any of the responsibilities that Hanni held as an employee constitute attacking a customer. The case also states that Hanni had anger management issues which were undisclosed to the owners of Sacred Grounds. Hanni’s anger management issues are likely the cause for the outburst and attack on Demetrious. This is further proof that Hanni’s actions were outside of the scope of his employment.
Given that Hanni acted outside of the scope of employment, the owners of Sacred Grounds cannot be held liable for the attack on Demetrious. This is because vicarious liability ceases to exist once the employee acts outside of the scope of employment. None of the responsibilities that the owners of Sacred Grounds had given Hanni would have justified the attack on Demetrious, thus clearing them of vicarious liability. While it is unlikely that any employer would give an employee responsibilities that could potentially include attacking a customer, the owners of Sacred Grounds would still have to prove that Hanni was acting outside of his scope of employment.
With the owners cleared of vicarious liability, any suit that occurs from the incident will be directly between Hanni and Demetrious. Liability will fall squarely upon the shoulders of Hanni, given the fact that he acted of his own accord. While the owners of Sacred Grounds would be cleared of vicarious liability, it is important that they review their policies and their procedures with their employees (Giliker, 2010). Carefully reviewing policies will help the owners find any instances where they may be held for vicarious liability. Once policies that may result in vicarious liability are discovered, the owners can further train employees upon these policies. Doing so is a preventative measure that the owners of Sacred Grounds can take to prevent incidents such as the one between Hanni and Demetrious from happening again in the future.
Giliker, P. (2010). Vicarious liability in tort: a comparative perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Goldman, A.J. & Sigismon, W.D. (2011). Business law: principles and practices. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.