We always review motor vehicle accident cases with serious injuries that have recently settled. One such case is Sawyer v. Crete Carrier Corporation represented by fellow AAJ members Kenneth J. Fulginiti and Thomas J. Duffy Jr. In this case, a security guard was awarded $3.75M after receiving disabling injuries in a pedestrian accident. This case is an excellent illustration of “vicarious liability”. Let’s describe the case and then look at what the legal doctrine of “vicarious liability” means. Citation: Sawyer v. Crete Carrier Corp., No. 3493 (Pa., Phila. Co. Com. Pleas June 12, 2012).
Susan Sawyer worked as security guard at a marine terminal insuring that trucks that entered and left the facility had the proper records. Her job required her to leave the guard shack. On one occasion, Sawyer left the guard shack to inspect a trailer and a truck driven by Sean O’Neal went through a stop sign and ran her over, crushing her ankle. At the time, the O’Neal was likely distracted because he was talking on his cell phone and was holding a dog in his lap while he drove.
The entire truck accident was caught on a surveillance tape.
Sawyer suffered serious injuries to her foot and ankle. Her injuries included crush injuries, damage to the bones, degloving injuries to her leg, ankle and foot and was left disabled with post-traumatic arthritis, neuritis and complex regional pain syndrome.
Sawyer filed suit against O’Neal claiming that he negligently operated his truck by failing to keep a proper lookout, moving his truck while Sawyer was next to it and for running a stop sign. She also filed suit against Crete Carrier, O’Neal’s employer under the doctrine of vicarious liability.
Sawyer also filed suit against the port alleging that the closure of the exit gate over the weekend and the traffic layout increased the danger to her.
All the parties to the suit settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million prior to trial. Crete Carrier agreed to pay $3 million.
The settlement amount took into account that Sawyer was permanently disabled and included amounts for future lost earnings, medical expenses and life-care costs.
Vicarious Liability/Respondeat Superior
Sawyer was able to bring suit against not only against O’Neal but also his employer, Crete Carrier, under the legal doctrine “Respondeat Superior” or vicarious liability which is Latin for “let the master answer.” This legal doctrine is recognized in civil law and it states that in some circumstances that employers can be held responsible for the actions or omissions by their employee performed during course of their employment.
In many vicarious liability cases we have see that the employer failed to screen employees for previous driving records and to provide proper training and support.
One famous case illustrating vicarious liability dates back to the 1990s and Domino’s pizza. Domino’s pizza used to offer a pledge that you would receive your pizza within 30 minutes of your order or the pizza would be free. After a Domino’s driver was ran a red light and collided with a car driven by an Indiana woman, the woman’ family sued claiming the guarantee led to reckless driving. The woman’s family received a substantial settlement in the case.