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By: Steven Grunberg
Do you ever feel like your dedication to your job is questioned? For one employee of a garbage and recycling disposal company there is little doubt surrounding the answer to this question. In March 2018, Lorenzo Bucknor was driving an Advanced Disposal Services Atlanta, LLC (“ADS”) recycling truck when he arrived at Mark Marczak’s home to retrieve Marczak’s curbside recycling. Just before Bucknor’s arrival, Marczak had placed his recycling bin on the curb of his home and placed an extra bag of recyclables on top of the bin. Prior to Bucknor stopping at Marczak’s home, the extra bag had flown off onto Marczak’s driveway where it remained.
When Bucknor pulled up in his ADS truck he collected the recyclables from Marczak’s bin but did not pick up the loose bag in the driveway as he did not consider them to be “curbside” and were not in the appropriate location for pickup. Marczak noticed the bag lying in the driveway and approached Bucknor, with bag in hand he said, “[t]his goes too,” and tossed the bag in Bucknor’s direction while Bucknor was emptying a bin at a neighboring home. Bucknor cursed at Marczak, left the bag on the ground, and returned to his truck. Marczak followed Bucknor to his truck, stating “[n]o, you take it, it’s your job,” and threw the bag into the driver’s side of the truck cab. Bucknor then jumped out of the truck and punched Marczak in the face before getting back into the cab, but immediately returned to Marczak and proceeded to strike Marczak several more times until he was lying unconscious and face-down on the driveway. Marczak and his wife sued Bucknor and ADS under the theory of respondeat superior, among others. Advanced Disposal Servs. Atlanta v. Marczak, No. A21A0180, A21A0181, 2021 Ga. App. LEXIS 191 (Ga. Ct. App. Apr. 8, 2021). The trial court denied summary judgment for ADS as to the respondeat superior claim.
On the surface, it may come as a surprise that the Marczaks’ respondeat superior claim survived summary judgment. After all, a recycling truck driver beating a customer unconscious appears to be “for reasons unrelated to that employment (e.g., for purely personal reasons disconnected from the authorized business of the master[.])” According to the court of appeals, Bucknor was clearly carrying out his duties as a ADS employee when he first encountered Marczak and the initial decision to punch Marczak was a personal reaction to having a recycling bag tossed into his cabin. However, the critical fact allowing the Marczaks’ respondeat superior claim to move forward was Bucknor’s response when asked why he re-engaged after the initial punch: “I had got out [of the truck] initially and, you know, I had — because he hit me, so I hit him, so now he’s walking away, so — and I’m in the area, I’ve got to finish this whole neighborhood, so I was thinking that he, I don’t know, was going to get a weapon or something, honestly, and follow me or something. So yeah, I still felt like I was in danger. He’s at home, you know, and I don’t know what he’s going to get.” The court held this testimony raised “a question of fact as to whether Bucknor’s actions were purely personal or connected, at least to some extent, with his effort to finish his recycling route.” Even if beating Marczak unconscious was motivated by personal malice, Bucknor’s response, according to the court, was enough to allow a jury to conclude that he acted “within the scope of [ADS’s] business and in furtherance of its interests.”
Employers should be aware that an employee’s testimony may end up slotting their conduct, beatings included, within the scope and in furtherance of its business. Simply because an employee’s conduct is personally motivated, this alone may not absolve his employer of liability under respondeat superior.
For more information about this topic, please contact Steven Grunberg at [email protected].