South Carolina Opens Door to Negligent Hiring Claim

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that a defendant employer may not avoid a claim for negligent hiring, training, supervision, or entrustment by simply agreeing that it is vicariously liable for the actions of its employee.

In James v. Kelly Trucking Company, the Court said that just because a company is vicariously liable for acts of an employee does not mean that it cannot be liable for its own negligence.  As the Court explained, "[a] plaintiff may, in a single lawsuit, assert many causes of action against a defendant. The considerations limiting a plaintiff’s available causes of action in the typical case are that the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate a prime facie case for each cause of action and that a plaintiff may ultimately recover only once for an injury."

The opinion also gives a nice summary of the common law of negligent hiring, training, supervision, or entrustment:  "in circumstances where an employer knew or should have known that its employment of a specific person created an undue risk of harm to the public, a plaintiff may claim that the employer was itself negligent in hiring, supervising, or training the employee, or that the employer acted negligently in entrusting its employee with a tool that created an unreasonable risk of harm to the public. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 317 (1965) (Cited with approval in Degenhart v. Knights of Columbus, 309 S.C. 114, 116, 420 S.E.2d 495, 496 (1992))."

The dissent argued that "a plaintiff may proceed on a negligent hiring claim when the employer admits vicarious liability only if there is evidence of gross negligence in hiring that would support an award of punitive damages."

Read the opinion here.