North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Infliction of Emotional Distress Action Based on Vicarious Liability Doctrine

Personal injury lawsuits often involve car accidents and other types of bodily injury. What few people realize, however, is that North Carolina law provides causes of action for other types of harm, including emotional distress. Our knowledgeable team of North Carolina personal injury lawyers is standing by to answer any questions you may have regarding whether you have a legal claim against someone else.

A North Carolina appellate court recently considered a claim in which an employee of a political campaign pulled a gun on the plaintiff in the back of a vehicle. The employee worked for the campaign as a director of its North Carolina office. The employee was known for carrying a gun through a concealed carry permit. While the plaintiff and defendant were riding in the back of a car to a campaign event, the plaintiff alleged that the employee brandished the loaded weapon and held it against his knee with his finger on the trigger. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the campaign alleging civil claims for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent retention and supervision. The plaintiff’s claims were based on a doctrine called vicarious liability, which holds employers responsible for the tortious acts that their employees commit during the course and scope of employment.

The campaign filed a motion for summary judgment on all the claims, which the lower court granted. The plaintiff filed an appeal alleging that it was improper for the court to grant summary judgment. The appellate court first rejected the campaign’s contention that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter and that it was a workers’ compensation claim. The court noted that a workers’ compensation claim does not preempt intentional torts because the risk of being potentially assaulted at gunpoint by a coworker is not something that a reasonable person would foresee experiencing on the job.

Turning to the issue of vicarious liability, the appellate court agreed with the lower court that the campaign should not be held vicariously liable for the employe’s conduct. Vicarious liability attaches to an employer only where the employer authorized the act, the tort is committed in furtherance of the employer’s business, or where the employer later ratifies the employee’s tortious actions. An employer will not typically be held liable for the tortious conduct of an independent contractor. Courts use a multi-factor test to determine whether someone is an independent contractor or employee, which largely turns on the amount of control the employer is able to exercise over the employee’s conduct.

Based on the evidence in the record, the appellate court concluded that the employee was an independent contractor. The campaign contracted with a political consulting company that subsequently retained the employee’s assistance with the North Carolina campaign effort. As a result, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

If you were injured in a personal injury accident, or have questions about whether you may be entitled to damages, our seasoned team of North Carolina personal injury lawyers are standing by to assist you. We offer a free consultation so that you can learn more about the legal system and whether you are owed compensation. Call us now at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online.

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