Master-Servant

Imagine being on vacation with your family at one of Florida’s beachfront resorts and while eating breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant and enjoying the picturesque sunrise, the waiter, while walking to refill your coffee cup, stumbles and spills hot liquid on the table that then trickles down to your leg. In piercing pain, you present to the local emergency room for treatment only to discover that you have suffered severe burns that will eventually require some form of plastic surgery. 

While the waiter did not intend to stumble or spill the hot coffee from the pitcher, you calculate that the extensive medical care will be costly and that you may lose time from work while recuperating—so you decide to contact a lawyer to learn more about what legal recourse you may have to provide for the bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering from a dream vacation that turned into a nightmare.

The lawyers at Fasig & Brooks routinely handle cases similar in scope to the scenario above, and when consulting with a potential new client at our offices in Tallahassee, Panama City, or Jacksonville, we quickly assess the probability of successful litigation under a general theory of negligence—and the specific principle of respondeat superior, a fancy Latin term that’s more commonly referred to as the “master-servant” law.

vacation restaurant

Negligence cases, by definition, account for the fact that the person who committed the tortious act did not intend the harm, thus, the standard “…omission to do something which a reasonable person, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do,” as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary. “Respondeat superior,” or the “master-servant” doctrine, imputes the negligence of an employee to the employee if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the tortious act occurred. The master-servant doctrine also applies to criminal acts, such as theft, assault, or sexual battery, when committed by an employee during the scope of his/her employment as well. 

In Mercury Motors Exp., Inc. vs. Smith, 393 So. 2d 545 (Fla.1981), the Florida Supreme Court held: “An employer is vicariously liable for compensatory damages resulting from the negligent acts of employees committed within the scope of their employment even if the employer is without fault. This is based upon the long-recognized public policy that victims injured by the negligence of employees acting within the scope of their employment should be compensated even though it means placing vicarious liability on an innocent employer.” Further, in LOPEZ vs. MARTENS and XPO LOGISTICS FREIGHT, INC., Case No. 19-24609-CIV-WILLIAMS, (S.D. Fla. Sep. 24, 2020), the U.S. District Judge held that a plaintiff must provide, “sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that [the employee] was acting for the benefit of his employer at the time and place of the accident—either by performing the kind of work he was hired to do, by serving a purpose of his employer, or by committing the act when he was working.” 

Due to the increasing nature of outsourced labor and independent contractors, Florida courts apply a “right of control” test to determine whether a worker who has committed a negligent or intentional criminal act is deemed an “employee” under the master-servant doctrine. Under Florida Statutes Chapter 443, the criteria for making this determination includes:

  1. The extent of the right of control by the employer over the details of the work;
  2. Whether the person employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
  3. The kind of occupation involved, and whether the work is done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision;
  4. The skill required in the particular occupation;
  5. Whether the employer supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work;
  6. The length of time the person is employed, and
  7. Whether the work is a part of the regular business of the employer.

If you or a loved one find yourselves injured by the negligent act(s) of an employee of a Florida business or become the unfortunate victims of an intentional criminal act(s) of an employee during the scope of their employment, do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Fasig & Brooks to set up your initial free consultation!