In a previous blog, we outlined developing law in the Louisiana appeals courts, and federal district courts in Louisiana on the issue of whether a claimant may maintain a separate cause of action against an employer for independent negligence when it is stipulated that the employee was in the course and scope of employment.1 Most courts held a claimant could not maintain a separate action against the employer under these circumstances, reasoning that the employee’s fault would impute to the employer, and therefore, additional inquiry was not appropriate. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed the issue and stated:
“(A) plaintiff may pursue both a negligence cause of action against an employee for which the employer is vicariously liable and a direct claim against the employer for its own negligence in hiring, supervision, training, and retention as well as a negligent entrustment claim, when the employer stipulates that the employee was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the injury.” (Emphasis added) See Martin v. Thomas et al., 21-1490 (La. 12/21/21), 328 So. 3d 1164.
This holding notably overturned the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruling in Elee v. White, – – So.3d – – (La. App. 1 Cir 7/24/20), 2020 WL 4251974 and other Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions. The Supreme Court in Martin reasoned that “the initial assessment of fault required by the law is not bypassed due to the employer-employee relationship” and “shielding a potential tortfeasor from liability is not compatible with a comparative negligence regime.” The Court further stated that the possibility that both the employee and employer may be at fault is not “subsumed” by the employer’s admission on course and scope. In fact, if the fault of the employee is shown, then the issue of whether there is also fault on the part of the employer remains and must be decided by the evidence on a case-by-case basis.
The consequences of this decision remain to be seen, but it is expected that claimants may also pursue employers separately on theories such as negligent hiring, supervision, and entrustment. The scope of such discovery will remain within the sound discretion of the trial judge.
By: John P. Wolff, III and Richard W. Wolff