Kentucky Supreme Court Expands Employer Liability for Negligent Worker Conduct: MV Transportation, Inc. v. Allgeier

by Mandy Hicks

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has issued an opinion related to the potential liability of an employer for the negligent acts of a worker. In MV Transportation, Inc. v. Allgeier, a wheelchair-bound bus passenger was seriously hurt on a cold day when she attempted to disembark from a Louisville para-transit bus after the bus driver negligently operated a wheelchair lift. When the woman attempted to roll onto the lift, her wheelchair tipped over, and she became suspended mid-air in her chair by a safety harness. After the lift lowered, the bus driver apparently unhooked the safety strap, and the woman fell to the ground. As a result, both of the woman’s legs were broken.

Instead of calling an ambulance, the bus driver allegedly contacted the bus service dispatcher per the organization’s protocol. The dispatcher in turn apparently notified two of the bus driver’s supervisors about the incident but also failed to contact emergency crews. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, both supervisors purportedly went to the scene of the injury accident before notifying emergency services. About 22 minutes after the incident occurred, an ambulance was summoned by the bus company. Since the bus company employees allegedly downplayed the extent of the woman’s injuries, emergency vehicles did not treat the situation as time-sensitive and responded to the accident scene nearly 20 minutes later. Although the two supervisors apparently took photos of the injured woman as she lay on the ground, law enforcement officers were not summoned to the accident scene. Following the incident, the woman received medical care in a hospital and a rehabilitation facility for a period of 225 days. She also allegedly relied on others for all of her needs following the accident.

About one year after the bus incident, the wheelchair-bound woman filed a lawsuit against the bus company seeking damages for the bus driver’s negligence using the doctrine of respondeat superior. In Kentucky and elsewhere, this doctrine allows an employer to be held vicariously responsible for the negligent acts of a worker if the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment. The woman also sought compensation from the bus company for its negligent hiring, training, retaining, and supervision of the bus driver. Finally, the woman asked the court to award her punitive damages to punish the bus company for its allegedly egregious behavior.

At trial, the bus company admitted the bus driver committed negligence and departed from company protocols. Still, the court dismissed the injured woman’s claim for punitive damages. Despite the dismissal of her punitive claim, a jury found the bus company vicariously liable for the bus driver’s negligent acts that caused the woman’s harm. In addition, the jury held the bus company independently responsible for its own negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention of the bus driver. As a result, the injured woman received approximately $75,000 in medical expenses and $4.1 million for her pain and suffering. On appeal, the court’s dismissal of the wheelchair-bound woman’s request for punitive damages was overturned, and the case was remanded. The bus company then sought review by the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Although most states have ruled that a defendant’s stipulation to vicarious liability eliminates a plaintiff’s right to recover for negligent supervision from an employer, Kentucky’s highest court declined to follow this rule and affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court’s ruling provides that an employer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is not only responsible for a worker’s negligent acts through the doctrine of respondeat superior but may also be sued for an independent cause of action related to the worker’s negligent entrustment, supervision, or training. Since 2008, the State of Tennessee has followed a similar rule. In Tennessee, an employer may be held responsible for the negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of a worker in situations where a plaintiff can establish that the worker’s employer had knowledge of his or her lack of fitness for assigned job duties.

If you were injured by the negligent act of someone else, you should discuss your right to recover damages with an experienced personal injury lawyer. To schedule a time to speak with a seasoned attorney about your case, please call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

MV Transportation, Inc. v. Allgeier, Ky: Supreme Court 2014

Doe v. Catholic Bishop for Memphis, 306 SW 3d 712 – Tenn: Court of Appeals, Western Section 2008

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