Indiana Supreme Court Holds Store Managers Cannot Be Individually Liable in Slip/Trip & Fall Cases

By: Jeff Kehl

The Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled that store managers cannot be held liable for negligent hiring and retaining store employees or for the existence of allegedly hazardous store conditions. The Branscomb v. Walmart, 20S-CQ-515 (April 7, 2021) opinion ends a growing trend of naming store managers as defendants in slip/trip and fall cases.

  • First, the court noted that for 50 years, Indiana courts have held that an employer who admits that an employee was acting in the course and scope of employment, cannot be liable to patrons for negligent hiring or retention of the employee. Here, Walmart admitted that its employees acted in the course and scope of their employment. As an agent of Walmart, the store manager could not be held liable for either negligent hiring or retention.
  • Second, a premises liability claim is a claim directed to the owner or possessor of the subject property. A store manager is merely an agent of the owner or possessor and therefore does not have direct liability for alleged hazardous conditions on the property.
  • Third, under agency law, a store manager’s duty of care flows to his employer unless the evidence establishes that the manager took over control of the store and was acting under a duty that was distinct from the store manager’s duty to the store. Because there was no evidence that the manager undertook any separate duty to store patrons and no evidence that Plaintiff relied on any such special duty, the store manager did not owe a legal duty to Plaintiff with regard to the condition of the premises.

We regularly report on current Indiana and Illinois premises liability cases in our General liability Newsletter. Click here to see our most recent edition.

Storrs Downey and Jeff Kehl recently updated their Illinois and Indiana Premises Liability Overview, a comprehensive source of information on court systems and state-specific treatment of issues such as comparative fault, slip and falls, accumulation of ice, open and obvious conditions, and much more. Click here to receive a copy.

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