The Supreme Court of Kentucky has issued an opinion related to the potential liability of an employer for the negligent acts of a worker. In MV Transportation, Inc. v. Allgeier, a wheelchair-bound bus passenger was seriously hurt on a cold day when she attempted to disembark from a Louisville para-transit bus after the bus driver negligently operated a wheelchair lift. When the woman attempted to roll onto the lift, her wheelchair tipped over, and she became suspended mid-air in her chair by a safety harness. After the lift lowered, the bus driver apparently unhooked the safety strap, and the woman fell to the ground. As a result, both of the woman’s legs were broken.
Instead of calling an ambulance, the bus driver allegedly contacted the bus service dispatcher per the organization’s protocol. The dispatcher in turn apparently notified two of the bus driver’s supervisors about the incident but also failed to contact emergency crews. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, both supervisors purportedly went to the scene of the injury accident before notifying emergency services. About 22 minutes after the incident occurred, an ambulance was summoned by the bus company. Since the bus company employees allegedly downplayed the extent of the woman’s injuries, emergency vehicles did not treat the situation as time-sensitive and responded to the accident scene nearly 20 minutes later. Although the two supervisors apparently took photos of the injured woman as she lay on the ground, law enforcement officers were not summoned to the accident scene. Following the incident, the woman received medical care in a hospital and a rehabilitation facility for a period of 225 days. She also allegedly relied on others for all of her needs following the accident.
About one year after the bus incident, the wheelchair-bound woman filed a lawsuit against the bus company seeking damages for the bus driver’s negligence using the doctrine of respondeat superior. In Kentucky and elsewhere, this doctrine allows an employer to be held vicariously responsible for the negligent acts of a worker if the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment. The woman also sought compensation from the bus company for its negligent hiring, training, retaining, and supervision of the bus driver. Finally, the woman asked the court to award her punitive damages to punish the bus company for its allegedly egregious behavior.