Fruit v. Schreiner Case Brief

Summary of Fruit v. Schreiner, S Ct AK [1972]

Vicarious Liability

Relevant Facts: Fruit was an insurance salesman who was required to attend a sales convention conducted by his employer. He drove his own car, but was reimbursed for his expenditures. The convention included social as well as business events, he was encouraged to mix freely w/ out of state experts in order to learn new sales techniques. On the second evening he drove to the Bar to look for some of his colleagues, finding none he drove back. His car skidded across a HWY and struck a disabled vehicle. Mr. Scheiner was standing in front of the vehicle and his legs were crushed.

Legal Issue(s): Whether an insurance company requiring its salesmen attend a three-day sales conference and the salesmen were left to arrange their own transportation and the scope of the conference included informal socializing with out-of-state guests is liable under R/S when saleman injures a third party returning from the Bar to the convention center?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Jury verdict for Pl; Df insurance company appealed; S. Ct Alaska Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): Respondeat Superior – an employer will be liable for the negligence of an employee committed while the employee is acting in the scope of his employment-in furtherance of his duties. Let the employer answer

Court Rationale: Justification for application of respondeat superior doctrine may not be found on theories involving employer’s personal fault such as his failure to exercise proper control over activities of his employees or his failure to take proper precautions in firing or hiring them; lack of care on employer’s part would subject him to direct liability without necessity of involving respondeat superior. Liability under doctrine of respondeat superior arises from relationship of enterprise to society rather than from misfeasance on part of employer. The enterprise may be regarded as a unit for tort as opposed to K liability purposes. EE’s acts sufficiently connected w/ the enterprise are in effect considered as deeds of the enterprise itself.

Applicability of respondeat superior depends primarily on findings of fact in each case.Where insurance company required that its salesmen attend three-day sales conference and salesmen were left to arrange own transportation and scope of conference included informal socializing with out-of-state guests, and defendant salesman went to another place in search of out-of-state guests and found none, jury could find he was within scope of employment in returning to place of conference during which return trip he had accident; and respondeat superior applied.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Df Fruit was acting on behalf of Df Equitable when he went to and from the Bar prior to injury to the Pl, and at the insistence of Df Equitable.

Defendant’s Argument: Any business purpose of Df was completed when Fruit left the Bar.

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