Ira S. Bushey & Sons (Plaintiff) sued the United States (Defendant) for damage Defendant’s seaman caused to Plaintiff’s drydock.
An employer is strictly liable for the actions of its employees when damage from the actions of its employees relating to their employment is foreseeable.
A seaman employed by the United States (Defendant) returned drunk from his night on the shore. He turned some wheels on the drydock owned by Ira S. Bushey & Sons (Plaintiff) which caused it to flood and partially sink.
Can the United States be held strictly liable for the actions caused by its employee under the theory of respondeat superior?
Yes, the Court found that the United States can be held strictly liable for the actions of its seaman. The Court affirmed the district court’s ruling.
The Court evaluated whether the doctrine of respondeat superior should apply in this case. It decided that the actions taken by the seaman were not within the scope of employment as defined by Section 228(1) of the Restatement of Agency 2d because the seaman did not do these actions for the purpose of serving Defendant.
The Court declined to use a policy analysis to support expanding respondeat superior. Even though Defendant might be better able to bear the cost of the damage, the Court found that it would be inappropriate to make Defendant legally responsible for its employee’s actions.
The Court finally decides to apply the doctrine of respondeat superior in this case because of the foreseeability that seamen may cause damage to the drydock. The only reason the seaman had access to the wheels he turned was because of his employment with the United States. The Court found this sufficient to hold Defendant strictly liable for the damages.