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Is a Business Responsible for Its Employees’ Bad Behavior?

In June 2014, Kevin Roper, a Walmart semi-truck driver, rear-ended Tracy Morgan’s tour bus on the New Jersey turnpike. Three passengers in the tour bus, including Tracy Morgan, were injured and one person was killed. It was later determined that Roper had been awake for more than 24 hours at the time of the accident. 

Following the accident, Tracy Morgan and others sued Walmart, Roper’s employer, for negligence, claiming that Walmart should have known that its semi-truck driver was operating its truck on too little sleep. Interestingly, Roper was not personally named in the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit is an example of respondeat superior, a legal doctrine that holds an employer liable for bad acts committed by an employee within the scope of employment. The employer may, in some cases, be held responsible for the employee’s bad acts even if the bad acts were in flagrant disobedience of the employer’s instructions. The crucial question is whether the action (or inaction) was performed within the scope of the employee’s employment. However, if an employer is found liable under the respondeat superior doctrine, the employer may have a claim against the employee. The value of such a claim, however, may ultimately depend on whether the employee has the financial ability to pay any judgment.

In June 2015, Walmart and Morgan settled their dispute for an undisclosed amount, but the saga continues. Walmart is now suing some of its insurers for bad faith after the insurers refused to consent to the settlement agreement and pay their respective portions of the settlement agreement.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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