Florida Appeals Court Overturns Lower Court in Negligence Claim Due To Pleading-Stage Procedural Posture

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a direct negligence claim and a vicarious liability claim by the appellant, the plaintiff, the appellees, a corporation, and its supervising employees. The plaintiff’s claim arose from a crash he suffered while riding his bicycle along a busy street. When he crossed in front of an automobile dealership, an employee of the dealership was leaving in a company van for delivery and crashed into the plaintiff. Responding to the operative complaint, the dealership admitted ownership of the van and that the driver was driving the van with permission while in the course of his employment when the crash occurred. At trial, the lower court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims.

At trial, the plaintiff filed claims of negligent driving against the driver and the dealership and additionally filed a claim against the dealership supervisors for negligent training, retention, supervision, and entrustment. He also filed a complaint alleging negligent hiring against the service manager. Finally, the plaintiff filed a vicarious liability complaint against the dealership corporation, North American Automotive Services, Inc. (North American), for the acts of its employee, the general manager. The supervisors, as well as North American each moved to dismiss their respective claims, and the trial court granted all three motions to dismiss. After final orders were entered dismissing the negligent employment claims with prejudice, the plaintiff gave notice of appeal.

On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court erred in dismissing his claims against the supervisors and North American by ruling that, pursuant to Clooney, negligent employment claims against individual supervisors must allege that the subordinate employee’s negligent acts were outside the scope of employment. The appellate opinion found that the trial court’s reliance on Clooney was misplaced. In Clooney, the plaintiff did not allege direct negligence against the employer. Instead, the two counts which the trial court struck alleged concurrent theories of recovery based on vicarious liability. In short, the counts in Clooney were redundant. Additionally, the negligent employment claims in Clooney were brought against the employer and not individually against the supervisor. The appellate opinion further pointed out that in the case before them, the plaintiff did not make any negligent employment claims against the employer of the driver causing the accident, but instead, the negligent employment claims were made against the supervisors individually, and vicariously against an employer of one of the supervisors.

The appellate court held that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged sufficient facts to avoid dismissal of the claims. The opinion further emphasizes that the appellate opinion is based on the pleading-stage procedural posture of the case, reversing the dismissal order and remanding the case.

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