Florida Appellate Court Affirms Lower Court in Florida Hit-And-Run Case, Finding No Respondeat Superior

Recently, the district court of appeals for the State of Florida Fourth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a hit-and-run liability claim by plaintiff Alicia McKee against defendant Crestline Hotels & Resorts, LLC d/b/a Hilton Singer Island Oceanfront/Palm Beaches (Crestline). The case arises from a hit-and-run auto accident that seriously injured the plaintiff and killed her husband. The plaintiff sought to impose liability against Crestline on a theory of respondeat superior—that the accident was caused by a Crestline employee acting within the scope of his employment. The circuit court concluded as a matter of law that the employee driver was not acting in the scope of his employment when he hit the plaintiff and her husband in a crosswalk. McKee appealed.

Facts of the Case

On an evening in December 2017, Alicia and Paul McKee were visiting West Palm Beach. At about 9:13 p.m., they began to cross Quadrille Boulevard in the crosswalk at Hibiscus Street on a do-not-walk signal. As they crossed, they were struck by an SUV driven by Anthony Horsford. Horsford had a green light as he traveled south on Quadrille. Although Horsford denied speeding, an eyewitness estimated that Horsford was going about 40 to 50 mph in a 35 mph zone. After the collision, Horsford stopped, got out of his vehicle, looked at the McKees lying in the street, and then drove off.

On the day of the incident, Horsford was employed by Crestline as a banquet manager at the Hilton Singer Island Resort. He did not have set hours or punch a time clock. His duties included setting up and overseeing banquet events, and his responsibility for an event continued “until everything was cleaned up.” He was thus in charge of every part of the banquet “from start to finish.” On the day of the incident, Horsford left a banquet around 8:45 p.m. About 10-15 minutes into the drive, Horsford felt like he hit a “pothole” as he was driving south on Quadrille. He testified that he was not on his cell phone or otherwise distracted at the time of impact. Prior to feeling like he hit a pothole, he did not see anyone near the roadway. Although Horsford denied making any phone calls or using his cell phone during his drive home, other evidence shows that Horsford was using his personal cell phone near the time of the incident. This evidence was ambiguous, however, as to whether he was using his phone to place a work-related call at the precise moment his car struck the McKees.

The plaintiff sued Crestline, alleging that Horsford was acting within the scope of his employment with Crestline at the time of the accident. Crestline eventually filed an amended motion for summary judgment, relying upon the “going and coming” rule and arguing that Horsford was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when the accident occurred because he was driving home in his personal car and was not running an errand for Crestline. The court granted the motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the appellate court held that neither driving nor using a personal cell phone while driving home, was an integral part of the work Horsford was hired to perform as a banquet manager. On that basis alone summary judgment was properly affirmed. The appeals court fully affirmed the lower court decision, upholding the summary judgment ruling.

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