City May Be Liable for Lifeguard's Car Crash
(CN) - A New Jersey city may have to defend a lifeguard who ran her car into a pedestrian while driving from one beach assignment to another, a federal judge ruled.
During her second season as a junior lifeguard in the summer of 2009, the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol allegedly required Carolyn Eisenhauer, then 17, to work on the 43rd Street beach in the morning and, come noon, travel 22 blocks to work on the 65th Street beach in the afternoon.
While driving her father's 2002 Toyota Camry from one beach to the next on June 27, Eisenhauer struck and knocked over a pedestrian, Nancy Allard, who was crossing street.
Allard, who was permanently injured in the crash, sued the Eisenhauers for negligence in federal court, demanding compensatory damages, interest, and attorneys' fees and costs. Eisenhauer's father was later dismissed as a defendant.
The lifeguard, in turn, filed a third-party complaint against Sea Isle City for vicarious liability, claiming that she was acting as its agent and/or representative when she ran into Allard.
Sea Isle City countered that Eisenhauer's conduct was not "of the kind" she was employed to carry out, as none of a lifeguard's duties involve driving a car, and Eisenhauer may have been picking up lunch on the way to her next assignment.
U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman denied the city's motion for summary judgment last week.
"It is readily apparent that in order for Eisenhauer to execute and perform the duties she was employed to carry out - guarding the beach and the water at both 43rd Street and 65th Street that day - Eisenhauer had to be physically present at both beaches during her shift," Hillman wrote.
"Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Sea Isle City set up its shift schedule assignments in a manner which resulted in, and necessitated that, Eisenhauer travel between beaches to execute her duties," the judge later added.
Although Eisenhauer testified that she could not remember if she brought her lunch to work on the day of the accident, evidence shows that her trip was "closely connected" and "fairly and reasonably incidental" to her lifeguard duties, the ruling states.
"Eisenhauer testified affirmatively that she was not going to get lunch at the time and was strictly reporting to her 65th Street beach assignment," Hillman wrote.
"Sea Isle City has not demonstrated that Eisenhauer was on a personal errand to get lunch at the time of the accident or was otherwise taking an obscure route to her second beach assignment," the judge later added.
Even if Eisenhauer did stop to get lunch, "such a stop-off prior to arriving at 65th Street is simply 'incidental to, and not entirely disconnected from, the primary business' purpose of her trip," the judge ruled.
Sea Isle City has 14 days to show cause why Eisenhauer should not be awarded summary judgment and entitled to employer indemnification, the ruling states.
"At the time of the accident with plaintiff, Eisenhauer was traveling to her second beach assignment ostensibly under the direction of the Beach Patrol given the structure of the lifeguard shift assignments," Hillman wrote. "Although it was her choice to drive a vehicle due to its convenience rather than to use some alternative means of travel (walking, running, biking, etc.), the evidence suggests that her conduct was done 'at least in part, by a purpose to serve,' the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol."