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Preemption of Employer Negligence by Vicarious Liability

September 13, 2016

Preemption of Employer Negligence by Vicarious Liability

CaseMelanie Jones, individually and on behalf of Matthew H. v. Shavonna Rachelle Windham, et al.

Issue:  Does an employer’s admission of vicarious liability preempt claims for direct employer negligence?

Facts:  Plaintiff was hit by a van driven by an Employee of Defendant Company. Plaintiff sued for negligence against the Employee as well as negligent hiring against the company. Company conceded vicarious liability and moved to dismiss the negligence claims against it. The trial court dismissed the negligence claims against the Company as preempted by its vicarious liability admission.

Appellate Decision:  In a 2-1 opinion, the intermediate court reversed and held that a direct negligence claim could proceed against Company, notwithstanding its admission of vicarious liability. The court recognized a split of authority across other jurisdictions in this question of first impression in Tennessee. Judge Gibson dissented, writing that preemption makes sense in this context because the employer could not be liable for greater damages in direct negligence than it would already be liable for through vicarious liability.

Review Granted:  August 19, 2016.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court will affirm the intermediate decision and reject preemption for the reasons stated by the majority. Although the total damages may be static, the allocation of fault between the plaintiff, the employee, the employer, and others could vary depending on the employer’s independent negligence.