Louisiana Sheriff Vicariously Liable For Training Injuries Suffered By Deputy

In 2001, Charles Albert, a deputy with the Lafayette Parish, Louisiana Sheriff’s Department attended a defensive tactics training course conducted by the Department. Carl Broussard, also a deputy with the Department, attended the same training course.

Shortly before the instructor arrived, Broussard and Albert decided to practice the “common peroneal” maneuver. This defensive tactic allows a deputy to subdue a subject by pressing his knee into the upper thigh of the subject. Broussard performed the maneuver on Albert. As a result, Albert sustained cartilage damage and traumatic chondromalacia. Three surgeries were required to correct the damage done to Albert’s knee.

Albert sued Broussard. After some complicated procedural wrangling, the Sheriff was brought into the case as a defendant, and the legal issue began to focus on whether the Sheriff was “vicariously liable” for Broussard’s conduct.

The Court of Appeal of Louisiana held that the Sheriff was liable for Broussard’s conduct. The Court stated that employers are vicariously liable for their employees’ actions when the employees are acting within the course and scope of their employment. The Court found that Broussard’s actions were “primarily, if not entirely, employment rooted.”

The Court observed that both deputies were required to attend the training session and could have been disciplined had they not done so. In the Court’s eyes, Broussard and Albert “were on a job assignment practicing a maneuver taught by the Department for use while on active duty. The Department contends the evidence indicates that Broussard’s actions were personally motivated; however, this argument is unsupported by the record. In fact, the record indicates otherwise. Broussard testified that he attempted the maneuver on Albert to make Albert a better deputy.”

The Court also found important that the conduct occurred inside a training facility rented by the Department. That the injury occurred a few minutes before the official start of Broussard’s shift did not trouble the Court: “We have already established that Broussard was required to be there for his job and was compensated for attending. Employees are generally not considered to be within the course and scope of their employment before they reach their employer’s premises. Broussard, however, had already arrived at his employer’s premises and his injury-causing conduct was of the same nature as what he was there to learn. Accordingly, we find that Broussard’s conduct occurred during the hours of his employment.”

The Court awarded Albert damages of $150,000 for past and future pain and suffering, $48,763 for past medical expenses, and $8,908 for past lost wages. The Court also awarded Albert’s wife $25,000 for “loss of consortium and companionship.”

Albert v. Farm Bureau Insurance Company, 2005 WL 2864786 (La.App. 2005).

NOTE: In most states, Albert’s lawsuit would have been dismissed through a statute known as a “workers’ compensation bar.” In states with workers’ compensation bars, an employee’s only remedy for an on-the-job injury is to bring a workers’ compensation claim, and the possibility of lawsuits against fellow employees who cause the injuries does not exist.

This article appears in the December 2005 issue