WHEN SHOULD EMPLOYERS BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ACTS OF EMPLOYEES? SHOULD SEPARATE RULES APPLY TO SOLDIERS AND SAILORS?

There was a collision that killed a motorcyclist.  One sailor was charged.  It’s likely another sailor was involved.

One of the drivers involved in a fatal motorcycle crash in Silverdale that detectives believe was the result of racing is now charged with vehicular homicide.

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Washington State Patrol detectives believe Forrest and another driver, who has not been identified, were racing on State Route 3 on October 29, before a collision with motorcyclist Jared Knight, who later died from his injuries.

“To me, (Forrest) is the last person who saw Jared alive and that’s hard,” said the victim’s widow Melissa Knight who was also in court on Thursday.

Knight, who was a sonar technician in the Navy, was on his way home from work when he got hit. Forrest, who is also a sailor, stayed at the scene and provided a statement but the other driver didn’t stop.

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“It’s harder to explain to 7-year-olds that daddy did everything he could to come home and it was out of his control,” said Knight.”We signed up to lose him to war. We signed up to lose him on a submarine. We did not sign up to lose him to two cars racing.”

It’s highly unlikely the sailor charged has enough insurance to compensate the motorcyclist’s family.  Should the Navy be held responsible for the conduct of the sailor?  Would the answer be different if the Navy knew about there was a racing sub-culture amongst young sailors or within the submarine community?

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is liable for those torts committed by employees acting within the scope of their employment.

So the question is whether the sailor who caused the accident was within the scope of his employment.  Serving in the military isn’t like holding a civilian job.  Particularly for a member of the armed services that lives on base. There is a lot more control exercised by the military than any civilian employer and in some senses the “employee” is always within the scope of their employment.

Based on the special relationship between the military and its soldiers and sailors, should it be held responsible when there are injuries off base and when the member is technically off the clock?

In the civilian context the employer is not relieved from liability for the employee’s negligent driving simply because the employee was using her own vehicle. If the employee was using his vehicle in the discharge of his duties with the express or implied consent of the employer, the employer is liable for damages the employee caused by her negligence.

Maybe a comparable rule should be applied to accidents involving soldiers and sailors—particularly when they’re so young and basically under the control of the military 24/7/365.

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