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State not responsible for Brooklyn guard’s tortious actions

111 Livingston St., Downtown Brooklyn, which houes the Brooklyn office of the state Workers’ Compenation Board. Photo courtesy of Google images

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

New York state, as an employer, is not responsible for a security guard who punched a wooden bench, injuring a bystander, the Brooklyn appellate court ruled.

Rozob Ali was sitting on a wooden bench in the Brooklyn office of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, located on Livingston Street, when he noticed a security guard speaking on his cellular phone close to a nearby window. Not viewing the use of a cell phone while on the job an unusual occurrence, Ali went back to reading his newspapers. Suddenly, the same security guard walked over and punched a wooden bench located in front of Ali. The punch caused the bench to collapse, injuring Ali.

It was later discovered that the guard had received news of his grandmother’s death and punched the bench in a fit of rage and grief.

Ali moved to file a civil claim against New York state for the injuries he sustained. For Ali, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, a state agency, was responsible for hiring the security guard and as his employer, the state is responsible for injuries incurred as a result of its employee’s actions.

Under the theory of vicarious liability, an employer is generally held liable for the injuring actions of its employees so long as the employee’s actions are done within the scope of his/her employment. For example, if a Duane Reade truck driver hits a pedestrian while making a Duane Reade delivery, Duane Reade may ultimately be held responsible for the driver’s actions via vicarious liability.

Ali originally brought his claim of liability against the state to the Court of Claims which, in 2012, dismissed all claims against the state. Ali appealed to the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, the four-judge panel voting against Ali in the end.

Citing precedent, the court agreed that an employer may be held liable for their employee’s torts. "Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the torts committed by an employee acting within the scope of the employment," the court noted in its decision. This level of liability is not an absolute, however, the court reminded.  

In order for an employer to be found liable, the employee’s action cannot be of a personal nature and cannot be of the type that could have been foreseen by the employer. "An employer, however, cannot be held vicariously liable for its employee's alleged tortious conduct if the employee was acting solely for personal motives unrelated to the furtherance of the employer's business at the time of the incident," wrote the court.

Here, the state, as employer, could not have foreseen that its security guard would receive a phone call about a relative’s death and then proceed to punch a bench, injuring Ali. “[The] security guard was acting solely for personal motives unrelated to the defendant's business at the time of the incident,” the court ruled.

With no exception for a finding of liability, the four-judge panel dismissed Ali’s claims against the state.

Justices Peter Skelos, Cheryl Chambers, L. Priscilla Hall and Robert Miller sat on the panel.

March 11, 2014 - 4:30pm


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