Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit, Under “Respondeat Superior” Theory, Dismissed Against Lyft

In Browne v Lyft, No. 2021-01314, 717499/19, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 04102, 2023 WL 4918610 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., Aug. 02, 2023), the court reversed a lower court decision, and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s causes of action for vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior and fraud.

Plaintiff alleged, in sum, that after utilizing a mobile app operated by defendant Lyft, a vehicle operated by the defendant Narinderjit Singh picked up the infant plaintiff and that, during the course of the ride, Singh allegedly unbuckled or unzipped his pants and began masturbating.

The court summarized the law as follows:

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its employees only if those acts were committed in furtherance of the employer’s business and within the scope of employment” (N.X. v. Cabrini Med. Ctr., 97 N.Y.2d 247, 251, 739 N.Y.S.2d 348, 765 N.E.2d 844; Riviello v. Waldron, 47 N.Y.2d 297, 302, 418 N.Y.S.2d 300, 391 N.E.2d 1278). “Pursuant to this doctrine, the employer may be liable when the employee acts negligently or intentionally, so long as the tortious conduct is generally foreseeable and a natural incident of the employment” (Judith M. v. Sisters of Charity Hosp., 93 N.Y.2d 932, 933, 693 N.Y.S.2d 67, 715 N.E.2d 95; Riviello v. Waldron, 47 N.Y.2d at 304, 418 N.Y.S.2d 300, 391 N.E.2d 1278). “An employee’s actions fall within the scope of employment where the purpose in performing such actions is to further the employer’s interest, or to carry out duties incumbent upon the employee in furthering the employer’s business”

“[W]here an employee’s actions are taken for wholly personal reasons, which are not job related, the challenged conduct cannot be said to fall within the scope of employment” (Montalvo v. Episcopal Health Servs., Inc., 172 A.D.3d at 1360, 102 N.Y.S.3d 74). “A sexual assault perpetrated by an employee is not in furtherance of an employer’s business and is a clear departure from the scope of employment, having been committed for wholly personal motives. [Cleaned up.]

Applying the law, the court held that “assuming that Singh engaged in the sexual misconduct as alleged in the complaint, it is clear that such conduct was a departure from his duties as a Lyft driver and was committed solely for personal motives unrelated to Lyft’s business” and, therefore, the Supreme Court should have granted that branch of Lyft’s motion which was to dismiss the cause of action alleging vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

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