The Latin term respondeat superior, which translates as “let the master answer,” refers to a legal doctrine in which an employer may be held responsible for the actions of his employees, when the actions are performed “in the course of employment.” In order for respondeat superior to apply, there must be a clear employee-employer relationship established, as the principle does not apply to actions by an independent contractor. To explore this concept, consider the following respondeat superior definition.
Remember these words when it comes to Stacy Tebo versus Helen Baca Miller.
Rhett Bullard, esquire, decided to allow Stacy Tebo to take the reins in ousting Helen Miller from her position on the Council. However, instead of making all decisions with the council and allowing Miller to respond, he instead had the Town Manager send the complaint to the Jasper News/Suwannee Democrat.
His sidekick, Councilman Jefferson gave a sad, sad story of how he did not expect to have the Dreamer award banquet of which this year, former Mayor McKire was the recipient. I of course went out of turn and stated “You do the Dreamer Banquet every year!” This was in response to Walter McKenzie stating that we had a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens and these lawsuits after what was paid and still coming some $20,000 will be paid in the Rivers’ case.
Tom Moore suggested arbitration and Councilman/former Vice Mayor Walter McKenzie suggested Mediation. Dr. Helen Miller agreed to mediation to save the town money. At one time McKenzie was a mediator at $25.00 an hour. In our case versus the Town, the Mediator cost each of us $200 an hour and the Town and we each paid $1,200. It could have cost more because of the hours used up except that the Mediator and our attorney were actually friends.
Nevertheless since the council voted to have a hearing, that is what the Council must adhere to. Walter McKenzie was concerned with cost, especially with the $15,000 already billed in the Rivers’ case. After Bullard started talking in a duck language and waiving his hands relative to an attorney would not know what the cost would be dependent upon time, it was decided that the Town would offer up to $7,500 for Stacy’s defense attorney. Frederick Koberlein will be representing the Town.
This is the problem. Remember those words, respondeat superior. Because of the law the Town, the Council as a whole are responsible for Stacy Tebo’s deeds in spite of the fact that they would wish to be separated. Unfortunately Tebo is part of the Town and there were no objections to her thoughts and actions against Dr. Miller and including submitting the charges against Dr. Miller in the Jasper News/Suwannee Democrat by Bullard, Brown and Jefferson. Even though Councilman McKenzie did not agree and he placed an admirable fight, unfortunately he may be stuck with the pack on this serious dilemma….only because the three children, Bullard, Brown and Jefferson cannot see the forest beyond the trees and what they may be doing to our Town and the Citizens.
Let’s look further into the law:
Determining When an Employer-Employee Relationship Exists
The doctrine of respondeat superior allows the law to hold an employer responsible for the acts of an employee. Therefore, determining when such a relationship exists, and therefore which party may be held liable, is of vital importance. Generally speaking, three facts must be taken into consideration:
- Was the act carried out while the employee was on the clock?
- Was the act carried out as part the employee’s job duties, or the agent’s responsibilities?
- Was the act of the same nature as the employee’s job responsibilities?
- Was the employee motivated to commit the act for the purpose of benefitting the employer?
Employer Liability in Intentional Acts
Although it is relatively easy to determine employer liability for an employee’s actions during the course of employment, the issue of intentional acts, which may be criminal in nature, is less clear. Many employers believe that any criminal acts committed by an employee, whether he is on or off the clock, are the sole responsibility of that employee. This issue is not black-and-white, however, but depends on the specific circumstances of the case.
While the issue of whether the employee’s acts were negligent or intentional is considered first, the courts commonly consider whether justice is served by holding the employer liable. The decision on whether the employer can be held liable for an employee’s intentional act depends on whether that act was committed within the scope and course of his employment, or at the direction of the employer.
It appears that Stacy Tebo may have been acting at the direction of three out of five council members of the Town and the Town may be liable.
There is another law which stands and used many times in the Insurance Industry which would pertain:
Vicarious liability, sometimes referred to as “imputed liability,” is a legal concept that assigns liability to an individual (Rhett Bullard) who did not actually cause the harm, but who has a specific superior legal relationship to the person who did cause the harm (Stacy Tebo). Vicarious liability most commonly comes into play when an employee has acted in a negligent manner for which the employer will be held responsible. To explore this concept, consider the following vicarious liability definition.
The problem remains with Frederick Koberlein’s contract with the Town of White Springs. Koberlein is contracted to protect the Council Members and not the Town Manager. For the hearing it will be required that Stacy Tebo secure her own attorney.
If this matter goes to circuit court, there is coverage under the General Liability portion of the policy with the Florida League of Cities which covers not only the officials, but all employees. That portion of the policy which covers the case is that of Personal Injury (slander, libel and defamation of character).
If this goes to Circuit Court which I believe it will, the costs for the Florida League as well as Dr. Miller’s attorney may be in the $70,000 each range. Prior to going to court there will be depositions taken, and a possible mediation required where a settlement will have to be met including Dr. Miller’s attorney fees as well as the cost of depositions. Furthermore if the actions toward Dr. Miller were considered malicious with intent, the Town may receive defense but will not receive costs for punitive damages, or personal injury.
Dr. Helen Miller can prove that she would have been willing to seek mediation; however, the Town, mainly Mayor Bullard jumped the gun and was determined to oust Miller and not allow her to have a say in spite of her being on vacation.
There will be no case of immunity which caused our case to end before suing for personal injury. In Dr. Miller’s case, the council are equals and thus no immunity is applicable.
Yes Mayor Bullard, you really weren’t thinking when you allowed Tebo to do these atrocities toward Miller.
Lots of luck to Tebo and her friends but I know the law is on Miller’s side and I am so pleased that she secured an ethics attorney.
Karin for the blog