New Case Update - Supervisor Not Immune from Liability when Acting as Co-Employee, Not Performing Nondelegable Duty


Hayes v. Pratchett, 2012 Md. App. LEXIS 63 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 5, 2012).

This case involved an employee, Daniel Hayes, who was struck by a vehicle driven by his supervisor, Darien Pratchett, while on the premises of their employer, BJ's Wholesale Club Tire Center in July 2006. On August 15, 2006, Hayes signed a release resolving any claims against his Employer. He subsequently filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County alleging negligence against Pratchett.

Pratchett argued that he was a supervisor performing a nondelegable duty of the employer in the course of his employment, and as a result, he argued, he was immune from the tort suit. The Circuit Court granted Pratchett's Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Hayes was precluded by §9-509 from taking any legal action outside of the Workers' Compensation System. Hayes appealed this decision and asked the Court of Special Appeals to determine whether the Circuit Court had erred in granting Summary Judgment for Pratchett. considering the facts that at the time of the accident, the employees were on BJ's parking lot and Pratchett was driving a customer's car.

In arguing for reversal, Hayes noted that the duty to safely operate a motor vehicle is a personal duty each driver must exercise when behind the wheel. He also pointed to the fact that at the time of the accident, Prachett was performing the duties of a subordinate employee, and not those of a supervisor, and therefore should not be shielded from liability.

Pratchett argued that he was responsible for providing a safe work environment for his employees and that this was a nondelegable duty of the employer. He further argued that performing routine tasks, such as moving customer's vehicles were enveloped in his duty to provide a safe work environment and were therefore sufficient to find him immune.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that where a supervisory employee is performing a nondelegable duty, he is immune from civil suit even where he or she negligently performs the duty. Also, this nondelegable duty is one that is owed to the employer and not to other employees. However, there is no shield from liability between co-employees and a supervisor is considered a co-employee when his affirmative action exceeds the scope of the nondelegable duty. The Court reasoned that by moving the customer's car himself, as opposed to delegating it to a subordinate employee, the Pratchett was not acting in a supervisory capacity, but was instead acting as a co-employee.

As a result of the fact that Pratchett was not acting in a supervisory capacity, he owed a personal duty of care to all other travelers, including Hayes. Not performing this duty satisfactorily rose to the level of an affirmative act of negligence beyond the scope of the nondelegable duty owed to the employer. Therefore, the Court held that Pratchett was not immune from liability by virtue of his position as a supervisor.