Employer Issues: Volume 2 - When are Employers Vicariously Liable for Employee Actions on Their Premises?


Haeger v. Target Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98942 (D. Md. July 17, 2012)

This case involved a customer at a Target store who sustained injury while shopping. Sally Haeger was walking through the parking lot when she approached a Target employee who was pushing a line of carts and asked if she could have one. The employee told her she needed to obtain a cart from inside the store. According to Haeger, the employee seemed agitated at her request. While getting a cart from inside the store, the employee pushed the line of carts into the back of the line of carts, causing the whole row to move, striking Haeger. As a result, Haeger was caused to bleed and suffered a herniated disc in her back. She then filed this suit against Target alleging negligence, assault and battery and sought punitive damages. Target filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and the only issue before the Court was that of punitive damages.

Target alleges that there is insufficient evidence of actual malice on the part of the employee to allow recovery of punitive damages. Further, if there is sufficient evidence, Target argues it should not be held vicariously liable for the employee's actions, as they were outside the scope of his employment. To recover these damages, the evidence needs to support that the employee acted with evil or rancorous motive influenced by hate, with the purpose being to deliberately and willfully injure the Plaintiff. The Court found that there was not sufficient circumstantial evidence to allow Haeger to recover punitive damages.

In Maryland, an employer is held to be vicariously liable for the actions of its employees where they were within the scope of employment. To determine whether actions were within an employee's scope of employment, Court examine whether the actions furthered the employer's business and were authorized by the employer. An employer may not be held liable in some circumstances where the actions were personal or a departure from the purpose of the business even if the event occurred on the employer's premises during normal business hours. Here, the Court found that none of the employee's duties involved physically confronting customers. Further, the Court found that purposefully and maliciously striking customers with carts was not incident to the employee's duties, it could not be considered as authorized, either expressly or inferred, by Target. Therefore, even if Haeger had sufficient evidence to find the employee acted with malice, Target could not be held vicariously liable for these actions outside the scope of employment.