The “aided-by-agency theory” is an exception to the usual rule that an employer may be vicariously liable only when an employee’s tort occurs within the scope of employment. Moreover, an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s tortious conduct if the employee “was aided in accomplishing the tort by the existence of the agency relationship.” See Restatement (Second) section 219. After Martin was sexually assaulted by a police officer on duty, she argued that the City should be vicariously liable because the officer’s position, given to him by the City, aided or facilitated in the act.
The Supreme Court discussed the very narrow applicability of the aided-by-agency theory in Iowa and did not find it applicable to the facts of the present case. Rather, the theory was limited to supervisors’ acts against subordinates in hostile work environment claims. Martin also cited several cases around the country that discussed a public policy in favor of holding governmental bodies liable for police misconduct based on the “unique power that law enforcement officers wield over citizens.” However, the Court cited the Iowa Municipal Tort Claims Act to reject this view. The Iowa Legislature has limited vicarious liability in the act for torts committed by “its officers and employees, acting within the scope of their employment or duties.” See Iowa Code section 670.2(1) (2015) (emphasis added). The legislature has specifically limited the scope of vicarious liability of municipalities, and thus, the Court declined to adopt such a broad reading of the aided-by-agency theory.
Shari L. Martin v. Thomas A. Tovar and the City of Muscatine, Iowa, No. 21-1072 (June 9, 2023).