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Don’t Look To Lyft For Recovery For Driver’s Sexual Misconduct (NY)

August 11, 2023

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When bringing a cause of action based on the theory of respondeat superior, New York courts have determined that “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."

Recently, in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/Browne-v-Lyft-Inc.pdf">Browne v Lyft, Inc.</a>,</em> such a circumstance was before the Court with the underlying injury occurring during a Lyft ride on October 12, 2018. The infant plaintiff was being driven by defendant Narinderjit Singh when, during the course of the ride, Singh allegedly unbuckled or unzipped his pants and began masturbating. Singh ceased doing so only when noticing that he was being recorded on the infant plaintiff’s cell phone. In addition to bringing an action against Singh, plaintiff commenced an action against Lyft alleging that Lyft was vicariously liable for Singh's acts under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

In reversing the lower court’s decision, the Appellate Division granted Lyft. Inc.’s motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7). The Court based this decision on the idea that, while the drivers tortious act occurred during the course of his employment with Lyft, it was not an act that was done in furtherance of Lyft’s business and the scope of Singh’s employment. In giving texture to scope of employment, the Court opined that employee actions fall within the scope of employment where the purpose of such actions is to further the employer's interest or business.

According to the Appellate Court, “where 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." Singh’s conduct deviated from his duties as a Lyft driver and done for personal motives. Therefore, the Court reasoned, the sexual misconduct could not be said to be within the scope of employment and granted the branch of Lyft's motion dismissing the vicarious liability cause of action.

Thanks to Rebecca Pasternak for her contribution to this article.  Should you have any questions, contact <a href="jdiffley@wcmlaw.com">John Diffley</a>.

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