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Tennessee Court of Appeals Rules That Mother’s Direct Negligence Case Against Daycare Owners Can Go Forward, Even Though They Admitted Vicarious Liability for Employee’s Negligence – Jones v. Windham

Pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the torts of a servant under certain circumstances. Furthermore, an employer can be held directly liable for the negligence in some cases.

In the recent case of Jones v. Windham, the Tennessee Court of Appeals was called upon to determine whether a woman whose child was struck by a daycare’s van driver could maintain a direct negligence action against the driver’s employers in light of their admission of vicarious liability.

Facts of the Case

The van driver allegedly struck the mother’s minor child with a vehicle while working for the employers in their daycare business. The mother filed suit in the Circuit Court of Shelby County individually and on behalf of her minor child, asserting claims of negligence against the van driver and claims of negligence per se, negligent hiring, and negligence retention against the employer. The employers admitted vicarious liability under the respondeat superior doctrine but sought summary judgment as to the direct negligence claims against them. The trial court granted the motion, and the mother appealed.

Opinion of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

The court first noted that the employers had previously acknowledged that the Tennessee courts have not ruled on the issue of whether direct negligence claims against an employer can survive the employer’s admission of respondeat superior liability for the acts of its employee. Accordingly, the employers proposed a rule under which a plaintiff would be prevented from proceeding on any direct negligence claim against an employer once vicarious liability has been admitted. Although the trial court’s order did not provide the specific legal grounds for its decision, the court found that it had essentially adopted the rule urged by the employers.

The court went on to determine that the rule sought by the employers – and apparently adopted by the lower court – was not appropriate for Tennessee. Under Tennessee law, vicarious liability represents an independent claim that is separate from other theories of liability asserted against a principal. The successful maintenance of an independent negligence claim against an employer may be factually dependent on the negligence of an employee, but liability is not imputed by virtue of the employer-employee relationship. Rather, liability is established because the acts of the employer fall below the applicable standard of care that is required.

Because the court’s opinion was that the preemption rule should not be adopted in Tennessee, the court concluded that the trial court had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s direct negligence claims against the employers. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court noted that its opinion was not to be construed as being determinative of whether or not the employers were negligent, only that the plaintiff had a right to assert such claims despite the employers’ admission of vicarious liability.

Talk to an Experienced Tennessee Car Accident Attorney

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, you need legal advice that you can depend on. The Hartsoe Law Firm has been handling car wrecks, truck crashes, and other personal injury accidents for many years, and we welcome the opportunity to serve your family’s legal needs. To schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable east Tennessee car accident lawyer, call (865) 524-5657. We have offices in both downtown Knoxville and in Maryville.

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