Newt Gingrich has made it known that he will not tolerate flip floppers like Mitt Romney. His staff, however, took that to a new extreme by allegedly assaulting Ron Paul supporter Eddie Dillard who appeared at a Gingrich event with an opposing campaign sign. According to witnesses, Gingrich staff yelled for “everyone to step on his toes.” Dillard was wearing flip flops and was injured after he said a security member used his heels to grind into Dillard’s foot. The case could present an interesting tort lawsuit and a question of respondeat superior where an employer is liable for the torts of his employees if they are acting in the scope of their employment.
In this case, reports state that at least one Gingrich supporter encouraged staff and supporters to block Dillard and assault him. The report below states that “Gingrich aides and security personnel swarmed Dillard” and began to stomp him, including an aide who screamed “Just block him!. Everyone step on his toes!”
The description raises a straightforward case of assault and battery. The question is whether such tortious conduct would extend to the campaign and Gingrich. In addition to a claim of vicarious liability through respondeat superior, there is also the possible claim or negligent hiring or training. Island City Flying Serv. v. Gen. Elec. Credit Corp., 585 So.2d 274, 276 (Fla. 1991). Like other states, an employer in Florida is liable “if the wrongful act is done while the employee is acting within the apparent scope of his authority as such employee to serve the interests of the employer, . . . unless the wrongful act of the employee was done to accomplish his own purposes, and not to serve the interests of the employer.” Gowan v. Bay County, 744 So.2d 1136, 1138 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999), Stinson v. Prevatt, 84 Fla. 416, 94 So. 656, 657 (1922)/
Often intentional torts or crimes are ruled as falling outside of the scope of employment. However, there are exceptions, particularly when security staff are involved.
Assuming that these were campaign aides or staff, the question would become whether they were engaged in a “frolic or detour.” This act, if proven, was committed as part of a campaign event to facilitate the campaign activity. This would appear to fit the model of a respondeat superior case. That could add a new dimension to Gingrich’s promises for “tort reform.”