Federal Court Refuses to Hold Social Security Administration Liable for Employee’s Maryland Crimes

In a recent case in front of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court refused to hold an employer liable for an employee’s criminal actions that took place while the employee was off duty. This was the court’s refusal to expand the Maryland state-law doctrine of “respondeat superior.”

great-fire-802961-mThe Facts of the Case

Several years ago, approximately 30 homes were allegedly set on fire by an employee of the Social Security Administration. The homeowners grouped together and decided to sue the Social Security Administration for their losses, arguing that the Administration, as the employer of the person who allegedly committed the acts, was at least in part liable for their losses. Since the named defendant was a federal entity, the case was filed in federal court.

The evidence submitted suggested that all the criminal acts took place while the employee was off duty. However, there was some suggestion that some of the planning for the crimes took place while the man was at work for the Social Security Administration.

The Doctrine of Respondeat Superior

The doctrine of respondeat superior is an old common-law rule that acts to hold an employer responsible for the negligent actions of its employees. The doctrine doesn’t apply in every case, however. Whether the doctrine applies in a specific case depends on the law in the state where the case arose.

The Federal Court’s Actions

The case put the federal court in a position where it needed to decide a matter of state law:  whether the State of Maryland’s doctrine of respondeat superior covered the criminal actions of an off-duty employee when there is some suggestion that the planning for the acts took place while the employee was at work.

Rather than decide the matter itself, the federal court “certified” the question to the Maryland Court of Appeals so that the State’s own court could have a say in the matter of state law. Specifically, the question was “Does Maryland [State law} impose liability beyond common law principles of respondeat superior such that an employer may be held liable for off-duty criminal acts of an employee if the employee planned any part of the off-duty criminal acts while he or she was on duty?”

The Maryland Court’s Answer

The Maryland Court of Appeals answered the question in the negative, holding that the doctrine does not apply in situations such as the one described. Therefore, the plaintiffs’ case as it stood against the Social Security Administration was properly dismissed.

Have You Been Injured by a Negligent Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by the negligent acts of a person working as an employee for another, you may be entitled to damages not just from the negligent party but also from their employer. However, as you can see from the above example, Maryland courts will not automatically hold employers responsible without a convincing case made out for their liability. The Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC has decades of combined experience bringing cases against negligent employees and their employers for all kinds of injuries and accidents. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Appellate Court Considers the Cap on Judgments Against Municipalities, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2015.

Court Dismisses Accident Victim’s Case Based on Lack of Expert Witness Testimony, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 23, 2015.

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