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Can a Plaintiff File a Direct Negligence Claim in Addition to Vicarious Liability Claim Where Defendant Has Stipulated It Will Be Vicariously Liable for Plaintiff’s Negligence, If Any?

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The Supreme Court of Wyoming answered this question in Bogdanski v. Budzik, No. S-17-0049, (2018 Wy. 7).

Mariusz Bogdanski (“Bogdanski”) and Damian Budzik (“Budzik”) were codrivers of a commercial semi-truck that was involved in an accident on Interstate 80 east of Evanston, Wyoming. Bogdanski was injured in the accident and filed an action against Budzik, alleging that his negligence caused the accident. He also sued FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (“FedEx”), the company whose trailers they were hauling, alleging both direct negligence and vicarious liability for Budzik’s negligence. The district court granted summary judgment to both Budzik and FedEx, and Bogdanski appeals the order in favor of FedEx.

In August of 2016, Budzik filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that he was entitled to coemployee immunity because Bogdanski had received workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries. Bogdanski opposed the motion. He asserted the evidence showed Budzik was not entitled to immunity because he engaged in willful and wanton misconduct by driving in a snowstorm at night and by getting the truck stuck.

In October of 2016, FedEx filed a motion for summary judgment asserting it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FedEx urged the district court to hold that a Plaintiff may not proceed against a principal on independent negligence theories of negligent hiring or training after the principal has admitted vicarious liability. FedEx also asserted that there were no facts in the record showing that either FedEx or Budzik breached a duty of care or that their actions proximately caused Bogdanski’s injuries. FedEx argued Bogdanski could not recover from it on a vicarious liability claim because his claims against Budzik were barred by coemployee immunity under the applicable workers’ compensation law.

In December of 2016, the district court entered an order granting Budzik’s summary judgment motion. It found that Bogdanski’s coemployee claims against Budzik were barred because of his receipt of workers’ compensation benefits. The district court entered an order granting FedEx’s summary judgment motion.

The Court says once an employer admits respondeat superior liability for a driver’s negligence, it is improper to allow a Plaintiff to proceed against the employer on other theories of imputed liability. FedEx decided to stipulate to liability for Budzik’s negligence, if any. If Bogdanski can prove that Budzik was negligent, and that his negligence caused Bogdanski’s injury, he would be entitled to recover the same damages that he would under the direct negligence theory. The Court has previously held that a party can only recover for a negligent failure to train or supervise if the person alleged to have been improperly trained or supervised was negligent.

In this case Both FedEx and Budzik would have to be listed on the form for allocation of fault if the direct negligence claim against FedEx was tried, which could lead to a double allocation. Finally, allowing negligent training and hiring claims to be tried with vicarious liability claims would lead to practical complications at trial. Evidence necessary to prove direct negligence claims is likely to be unfairly prejudicial to the driver.

The district court correctly held that Bogdanski could not pursue claims of both vicarious liability and direct liability for negligent training when FedEx admitted its liability for Budzik’s negligence. The ruling is affirmed.