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Respondeat Superior and the Scope of Employment

Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C.

Respondeat superior under the law means that an employer is liable for harm done by its employees. The theory behind respondeat superior is that employers have control over the actions of their employees and receive a benefit from actions done by their employees in the course and scope of employment. Employers are therefore also responsible for any harm done by their employees who are acting within the course and scope of employment.

This theory has very practical consequences. For instance, this theory typically arises in circumstances where a third party is injured in an automobile accident caused by an employee. If the employee does not have enough assets or insurance to completely cover the third party’s injuries, the injured party may seek to hold the employer vicariously liable. If the employer has more insurance coverage or assets that would more fully compensate the injured person, then the theory of respondeat superior can be a useful tool.

The question then arises as to what activity by an employee falls within the course and scope of employment. This is a factual question that must be decided by the fact finder, based upon the specific facts of each case. While there is no hard and fast definition of the course and scope of employment, we can look to previous decisions to help guide our analysis.

Colorado courts have found that these actions are within the course and scope of employment:

  • An employee “engaged in the work which has been assigned to him by his employer or . . . doing what is necessarily incidental to the work which has been assigned to him or which is customary within the business in which the employee is engaged.” Huddleston v. Union Rural Elec. Ass’n, 841 P.2d 282, 292 (Colo. 1992) (citing Destefano v. Grabrian, 763 P.2d 275, 286 (Colo. 1988)).
  • A bus driver working for a private contractor. Perkins v. Regional Transp. Dist., 907 P.2d 672 (Colo. Ct. App. 1995).

While these actions are not within the course and scope of employment:

  • An employee driving his personal vehicle home after work. Raleigh v. Performance Plumbing & Heating, Inc., 130 P.3d 1011 (Colo. 2006).
  • An employee of a ski area operator. C.R.S. § 33-44-112; Johnson v. Bodenhausen, 835 F. Supp. 2d 1092 (D. Colo. 2011).

If you believe you have a claim under respondeat superior, or have questions related to this theory, contact our attorneys today to discuss the facts of your case.

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