An Employer May be Liable for an Employee’s Negligence in Hawaii
Under the legal theory of respondeat superior an employer may be liable for the negligent act of its employee that occur within the scope of the employee’s employment. Henderson v. Professional Coatings Corp., 72 Haw. 387, 391-392, 819 P.2d 84, 88 (1991). In defining the scope of an employee’s employment, the Hawaii Supreme Court adopted the Restatement (Second) of Agency §228 (1958) which states as follows:
(1) Conduct of a servant is within the scope of employment if:
(a) it is of the kind he is employed to perform;
(b) it occurs substantially within the authorized time and space limits; and
(c) it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the employer.
Whether an employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment is ordinarily a question of fact in light of the evidence of a particular case. If a reasonable trier of fact or jury could find a connection between the employee’s negligent act (for example, drinking at an employer’s function while being aware of the need to drive) and the employer’s interest (fostering good will with employees), an employer could be liable for a subsequent automobile collision caused by the drunk employee.
For example, in Wong-Leong v Hawaiian Independent Refinery, Inc., 76 Hawaii 433, 444, 879 P.2d 538, 549 (1994), where there was a history and tradition of drinking activities at the employer’s picnic area, and that practice benefited the employer’s enterprise, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that a jury could reasonably find that an employee was acting within the scope of his employment when he negligently drank alcohol at the party; and therefore the employer could be held vicariously liable for the employee’s negligent act.
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