Lifeguard Travelling Between Job Locations Entitled to Indemnification From Her Public Entity Employer, Sea Isle City

New Jersey Public Entity Law Monthly – Vol. II, Issue 9

By: Betsy G. Ramos, Esq.

In a recent District Court of New Jersey decision, Allard v. Eisenhauer, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131078 (Sept. 13, 2013), the court found that a lifeguard who was sued as a result of a car accident should be entitled to indemnification from her public entity employer, Sea Isle City. The plaintiff sued Eisenhauer, the lifeguard, for personal injuries sustained when she was struck by a car driven by Eisenhauer. In turn, Eisenhauer filed a third party complaint against Sea Isle City, claiming that she was entitled to indemnification.

On the day of the accident, Eisenhauer was assigned to one beach in the morning and, then at noon, was scheduled to work a different beach. She was required to use her own transportation from one beach assignment to the next. While en route to the second assignment, she struck plaintiff and knocked her over.

Eisenhauer filed a third party action against her employer Sea Isle City, claiming that as an employee of the Beach Patrol, she was acting as an agent and/or representative of Sea Isle City at the time of the accident. SeaIsleCity moved for summary judgment, contending that she was not acting within the scope of her employment.

Pursuant to the Tort Claims Act, a public entity is liable for injury proximately caused by an act or omission of a public employee within the scope of his employment to the same extent as a private actor in the same circumstances. Further, the Tort Claims Act empowers public entities to indemnify its employees. However, the authority to indemnify stems from acts characterized within the scope of employment.

The court looked at a number of factors to make this determination. First, the court considered whether Eisenhauer’s conduct was “of the kind” that she was employed to perform through her lifeguard duties. SeaIsleCity contended that driving a vehicle was not within her duties. Because of how SeaIsleCity set up Eisenhauer’s schedule, it required her to drive between beach locations so as to execute her duties. Hence, the court found it was closely connected and fairly reasonably incidental to her lifeguard duties to qualify as “of the kind” of conduct she was employed to carry out.

Next, the court considered whether her conduct occurred substantially within the authorized time and space limits of her duties as a lifeguard. SeaIsleCity contended that her duties only encompassed the beach and the water. Because Eisenhauer was still on duty when she was travelling to her next assignment, the court found that she was acting within the authorized time limits of her employment when the accident occurred.

Finally, the court assessed whether Eisenhauer’s conduct was done, at least in part, to serve her employer. Again, because SeaIsleCity set up her assignments requiring her to travel between beaches to guard at the second beach, this act of travelling was found to be within her duties as lifeguard.

Thus, SeaIsleCity’s motion for summary judgment was denied. Although Eisenhauer did not cross-move for summary judgment, the court sua sponte contemplated granting Eisenhauer summary judgment on the indemnification issue and gave Sea Isle City 14 days to respond why an order for indemnification should not be granted.

This case shows the broad interpretation of the courts in finding employees to be acting within the scope of employment. Under those circumstances, employers will be vicariously liable for their employees’ acts and public entity employers should indemnify them for their negligent acts.

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