Employers Liability to Intentional Act of An Employee

In Rhode Island, it is well-established that an employer, in the absence of a statute to the contrary, is generally not liable for the intentional tortious conduct of an employee unless the tort was committed while performing a duty in the course of his or her employment and by express or implied authority from the employer. Drake v. Star Market Co., Inc., 526 A.2d 517, 519 (R.I. 1987); Labossiere v. Sousa, 87 R.I. 450, 143 A.2d 285 (1958); Bryce v. Jackson Diners Corp., 80 R.I. 327, 96 A.2d 637 (1953). In an appropriate case, the law may imply the authority to an employee so as to hold the employer liable even though the act is one specifically forbidden by the employer or is in violation of law. Bryce, 80 R.I. at 331, 96 A.2d at 639. In the absence of unusual circumstances, however, it is difficult to imply authority to commit an assault or to perform a criminal act. Id. at 331, 96 A.2d at 640. Where an employee commits a tort as an incident to the execution of a duty which he or she was hired to perform, however, the necessary authority is implied by law so as to hold the employer liable for the employee's tortious method of performing the duty delegated to him or her, even though the employee's act was willful and unauthorized or forbidden. Id. at 331-32, 96 A.2d at 640. In such circumstances, the wrongful act is held to arise out of and in the course of employment and, unless it is so independent of the reasonable scope of his or her employment as to be the act of the employee alone, the employer may be held to be responsible. Id. at 332, 96 A.2d at 640. In particular, the law implies the authority when the nature of the employee's duty is such that its performance would reasonably put the employer on notice that some force probably may have to be used in executing it. Id. Alternatively, the authority should not be implied where the injury is inflicted by an employee while performing an act that is not reasonably within the scope of his or her employment or authority, express or implied. Id. Moreover, an employer will not be held vicariously liable in punitive damages for an employee's intentional torts unless the plaintiff proves that the employer participated in, authorized or ratified the employee's action. Reccko v. Criss Cadillac Co., Inc., 610 A.2d 542, 545 (R.I. 1992).