No Claim for Negligent Hiring Supervision Where Driver’s Employment was Admitted; Allegations Insufficient to Establish Punitive Damages

No Claim for Negligent Hiring Supervision Where Driver’s Employment was Admitted; Allegations Insufficient to Establish Punitive Damages

Although an unreported case, the opinion by Judge DeBevoise is instructive as to how the federal courts for the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey will handle negligent hiring, training and supervision claims where the scope of employment is admitted.  In Sipler v. Trans AM Trucking, Inc., et al., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 126047, the plaintiffs were passengers on a commercial commuter bus which collided with a Trans Am Trucking, Inc. tractor-trailer being driven by Paul C. Robb.  It was alleged that Paul Robb was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend at the time of the collision despite Trans AM Trucking, Inc.’s policy against using cell phones while driving.  Plaintiffs allege that Paul Robb’s conduct was outrageous and warranted the imposition of punitive damages and that Trans AM Trucking, Inc. was reckless, careless and negligent in failing to properly hire, train and supervise Paul Robb.  At all times, Trans AM Trucking, Inc. admitted that Paul Robb was operating within the course and scope of his employment.

On behalf of Paul Robb and Trans AM Trucking, Inc., a motion for summary judgment was filed on the negligent hiring, training and supervision claims and the punitive damage claim.  The Court held that Trans AM Trucking, Inc., by admitting that Paul Robb was employed by Trans AM Trucking, Inc. and acting within the course and scope of his employment, would be vicariously liable for any negligence attributed to Paul Robb.  Therefore, plaintiffs’ negligent hiring, training and supervision claims were duplicative and were dismissed.

In addition, the Court dismissed the punitive damage claim.  It found that Paul Robb’s driving, while on his cell phone, was not a willful, wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others on the road.  The Court also accepted Mr. Robb’s testimony that because he was uncomfortable with the amount of distance between his tractor-trailer and a commercial bus, he began slowing down before the accident.  His conduct, at best, amounted to negligence and negligence by itself, did not constitute clear and convincing evidence to support an award of punitive damages.