Negligent Training, Retention, Supervision, and Entrustment Claims Against Individual Officers and Agents
In Jones v. Vasilias, 48 Fla.L.Weekly D568a (Fla. 4th DCA 2023), the plaintiff was injured when he was riding his bike in front of an automobile dealership. An employee of the dealership hit the plaintiff as he was leaving the dealership in a van for a delivery. The plaintiff, in addition to suing the driver of the van and the dealership, asserted claims against the dealership’s general manager and service manager in negligence for negligent training, retention, supervision, and entrustment. The trial court dismissed the negligence claims against the general manager and supervisor. The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed finding that the complaint, at least for purposes of the pleading stage, properly asserted claims against the general manager and service manager for negligent training, retention, supervision, and entrustment:
“It is well-settled . . . that individual officers and agents of a corporation may be held personally liable for their tortious acts, even if such acts were committed within the scope of their employment or as corporate officers.” Additionally, Florida courts have emphasized that the officer cannot be personally liable “for [his] torts merely by reason of his official character[,]” but he is liable for torts where he “commits or participates in the commission of a tort.” “A contrary rule would enable a director or officer of a corporation to perpetrate flagrant injuries and escape liability behind the shield of his representative character.” “A corporate officer or agent must be alleged to have acted tortiously in his individual capacity in order to be individually liable.”
In the instant case, the trial court erred to the extent it concluded that a negligent employment claim against a supervisor individually requires that the subordinate employee’s actions be outside the scope of employment. A claim of negligent hiring, training, retention, supervision, or entrustment against a supervisor individually, as opposed to the corporate employer, does not depend on whether the subordinate employee’s actions were outside the scope of employment. However, such negligent employment claims must include more than just general or vague assertions of the supervisor’s responsibilities: they must include facts showing the supervisor’s “personal involvement” in a tort that led to the plaintiff’s injuries, or “at least knowledge amounting to acquiescence in the wrongful act.”
The complaint here alleged sufficient facts to avoid dismissal of the negligent employment claims. The complaint alleged facts to show that although the collision with the plaintiff occurred just off corporate property and the supervisors were not in or around the van at that time, the supervisors at least “[had] knowledge amounting to acquiescence in the wrongful act” of allowing the driver to drive the van under circumstances demonstrating he was unfit to do so. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint against the supervisors.
Jones, supra (internal citations omitted).
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