On November 6, 2009, Arthur Elijah entered a Church’s Chicken and proceeded to order food. Upon receipt of the meal, Elijah complained to the employee regarding the quality of the food. The verbal exchange grew heated and Elijah allegedly threw a receipt at the employee. The employee of Church’s Chicken, a fast food chain owned by Cajun Operating Company (COC), responded by throwing a metal straw container at Elijah.
The metal straw container struck Elijah on the face, hitting him in the area surrounding his right eye. Following the incident, Elijah sought medical treatment on November 25, 2009 at a local hospital reporting pain, blurred vision, and twitching in the area of his right eye. He additionally complained of sinus congestion. Elijah was diagnosed with a facial contusion and sinusitis, and was prescribed pain medication and an antibiotic. The physician did not note any permanent injuries. Elijah revisited physicians on multiple occasions regarding related eye issues.
Elijah filed a lawsuit against COC for the incident, seeking to hold COC liable for permanent damages that occurred as a result of the assault and battery committed by one of COC’s employees. Following a trial, judgment was rendered in favor of Elijah in the district court. The court assessed damages against COC in the amount of $17,500 and held that the employee committed the offense against Elijah while acting within the line and scope of employment.
While COC does not deny that the employee threw the metal straw container at Elijah, COC contests that the employee was acting within the scope of employment and appealed this judgement. Additionally COC objected to the trial court’s giving jury instruction that permitted Elijah to recover for a permanent injury, asserting he did not have a permanent injury. The court addressed the jury saying:
“Mr. Elijah also says he’s been permanently harmed. The purposes of awarding damages for permanent harm is to compensate Mr. Elijah for that harm. Harm is permanent if in all reasonable probability it will continue for the rest of Mr. Elijah’s life. You must decide whether Mr. Elijah is permanently harmed, and if so, what amount of damages will reasonably compensate him for that harm.”
The appeals court reversed the permanence of injury, and the jury will be required to recalculate damages incurred. However, the assertion that the employee was acting within the line and scope of employment was upheld, given that the altercation occurred over the food served by the restaurant Elijah had originally entered the restaurant for.
In evaluating this case, it demonstrates how courts may evaluate whether an employee is acting inside the scope of employment when committing assault. While in this case COC would not likely approve of the employee’s behavior toward Elijah, the disagreement occurred as a result of Elijah’s questioning the fast food chain’s food quality. As such the court found the jury reasonably concluded the employee’s act did in fact fall in the scope of employment and did not result from any sort of personal motive, given that the employee had no previous relationship with Elijah and the discussion was over the food the restaurant, and employee, serves.
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