Football Team Not Liable for Accident Caused by Off-Duty Sheriff Deputy During Police Escort

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 20, 2015. Despite being down nine points at the end of the third quarter, the Buccaneers leapfrogged up twelve points in the fourth quarter while holding the Saints to only a field goal. The Buccaneers won the game 26 – 19.

In another come-from-behind victory, the Buccaneers recently triumphed at the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Court dismissed the Buccaneers from a lawsuit, Bolden v. Tisdale, arising out of an accident that happened on the night of the September 20, 2015 game.

Bolden v. Tisdale – Background

The Buccaneers hired the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Office (“JPSO”) to provide motorcade escorts from the Superdome to New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport after the game was over.

JPSO deputy Michael Tisdale, riding a JPSO-owned motorcycle, took up the rear position in the motorcade. Following the last team bus out of the Superdome, he turned right from Girod St. on to Loyola St. While executing his turn, he struck and injured JPSO Deputy Terrence Bolden—who was on foot to provide pedestrian control at the intersection. Deputy Bolden was not a part of the Buccaneers’ motorcycle escort; rather, he was working a separate off-duty detail for the Superdome management company.

Deputy Bolden subsequently sued the Buccaneers for personal injury, alleging that the Buccaneers were vicariously liable for Deputy Tisdale’s conduct. The core of this argument was the claim that Deputy Tisdale was an employee of the Buccaneers, and that he was acting in the course and scope of his employment.

Trial Court’s Decision

The Buccaneers moved for summary judgment to dismiss Deputy Bolden’s claims. The Buccaneers argued that they could not have possibly exercised the requisite level of control over Deputy Tisdale because they had no authority to handle public safety and traffic control issues. That authority lies solely within the purview of law enforcement. Thus, they argued that Deputy Tisdale could not have possibly been acting as a Buccaneers employee at the time of the accident.

Deputy Bolden, on the other hand, relied on an affidavit from a JPSO traffic division commander who stated that the JPSO does not consider off-duty deputies to be JPSO employees. The commander also stated that off-duty deputies are required to adhere to the instructions provided by the entity that hires them for the off-duty work.

The trial court denied summary judgment for the Buccaneers due to a factual dispute as to whether the JPSO deputies were Buccaneers employees. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Buccaneers’ request for appellate review of that denial. On their proverbial fourth-and-ten, the Buccaneers refused to punt. Instead, they threw a Hail Mary to the next eligible receiver: the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The Buccaneers completed the pass, and the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

Louisiana Supreme Court Reversal

The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision and granted summary judgment for the Buccaneers. The Supreme Court emphasized that the “single most important factor” in deciding whether an employer-employee relationship exists is whether the master has the right to control the servant’s work. An employee is tightly controlled by her employer, and is subject to the employer’s whims as to how, where, and when her work is performed. An independent contractor, on the other hand, has greater freedom of action and choice as to how he performs his duties. So long as an independent contractor delivers the contracted-for product, the means by which he arrived at the product are immaterial.

Here, the Court determined that the Buccaneers did not exercise enough control over how Deputy Tisdale and the other off-duty police escorts did their job to create an employer-employee relationship. While the Buccaneers requested a specific route and use of lights and sirens, the police escorts used their own discretion to determine the safest and most efficient way to transport the team to the airport. While the Buccaneers set the date and time of the escort, they were not consulted as to how the escort would be conducted. Thus, Deputy Tisdale and his fellow officers were required to only deliver a product (the successful escort), and not to use a specific means to arrive at that product. This is the hallmark of an independent contractor.

The Supreme Court also differentiated this situation from another common fact pattern involving off-duty officers. Many off-duty officers are hired to provide security guard services at a specific premises or location. The Court acknowledged that off-duty officers providing premises security can often be employees of the entities that hire them. However, providing a motorcade demands a more advanced set of skills, specific training, and more exercise of judgment and discretion than being a premises security guard does.

Thus, the Buccaneers prevailed on their motion for summary judgment and were dismissed from the case.

The Upshot

This decision serves to insulate entities that hire police officers for off-duty details from liability for accidents that those officers cause. Whether the hiring entity is a football team or a Mardi Gras krewe, it is entitled to rely on police officers to use their own judgment and discretion when arranging for a police escort—and will not be held vicariously liable when something goes wrong.

Case cite: Bolden v. Tisdale, 2021-00224 (La. 01/28/22); 2022 La. LEXIS 285

Opinion at: