The case of Constantine v. City of New York, 2020 NY Slip Op 06238 (2d Dept 2020), concerns a motion for summary judgment by two of the defendants, Purolator U.S.A., Inc., and Purolator International, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “the defendants”), who sought to be removed from a personal injury case. The Supreme Court granted the motion for summary judgment, on the grounds that they did not own the truck or employ the driver accused of having caused the alleged injuries. The plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed the lower court order.
This case involves a plaintiff who was standing on a metal plate on a loading dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Without warning, the truck at the loading dock suddenly pulled away with the metal plate still attached to it, resulting in the plaintiff falling off and sustaining injuries. The driver of the truck was never identified.
Subsequently, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit against every individual and organization who might be liable for his injuries. This includes the City of New York, who owns the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as the defendants, who the plaintiff alleged were the owners of the truck and the employer of the driver. He sought to hold the defendants liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which states that an employer is liable for the negligent actions taken by an employee in the context of their employment.
In response, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, denying the plaintiff’s claims and seeking to be removed from the lawsuit. The lower court granted the motion because the defendants were able to demonstrate by prima facie evidence that the truck that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injuries did not belong to them. In addition, they showed that the truck driver could not have been their employee, and at most was an employee of an independent contractor hired by their company. The doctrine of respondeat superior only applies to direct employees, and not independent contractors, thus meaning they would not be liable for any negligent acts committed by the truck driver.
In response, the plaintiff appealed the lower court’s ruling, claiming that the defendants had failed to meet the minimum standard necessary for summary judgment. However, the Second Department agreed with the lower court, and noted that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that there was a direct employment relationship between the driver that caused the injury and the defendants. As a result, the court ruled the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, dismissing the plaintiff’s case insofar as it applied to the defendants.