A vicious attack on an elderly Boca Raton woman has ended in a fatality. 75 year old Evelyn “Evy” Udell was brutally beaten, and then set on fire, by a Best Buy deliveryman who was installing her washer/dryer. At this point in the police investigation, there are more questions than answers.
Our Boca Raton elder abuse lawyers analyze the fact pattern to determine potential liability of Best Buy for its negligent hiring and retention of the alleged murderer.
Vicious Boca Raton Assault Against an Innocent Senior Citizen
The attack on Ms. Udell was brutal, inhumane and seemingly unprovoked. Apparently, the alleged murderer, Jorge Luis Dupre Lachazo, was delivering and installing Ms. Udell’s washer from Best Buy. Interestingly, Lachazo did the installation with another employee. Delivery arrived around 9 am on August 19, 2019. Once the old washer and dryer were removed, the other deliveryman returned to the truck to make phone calls. Lachazo stayed with Ms. Udell inside the house.
The other deliveryman has told police he heard screaming coming from inside. That is what prompted him to enter the Boca Raton residence again. The other deliveryman called 911 and Lachazo drove off in the delivery truck.
Police allege that Lachazo beat Ms. Udell on her head and body with a mallet. According to police, Lachazo admitted in interrogation to knocking Ms. Udell unconscious by beating her head with the mallet. Lachazo then allegedly threw an accelerant over the elderly victim and set her on fire.
Ms. Udell was alive when found by first responders, but only barely clinging to life. Lachazo had turned on her stove and oven. She was rushed to nearby Delray Medical Center where it was confirmed she suffered a subdural hematoma and third degree burns.
No motive for the vicious attack has been announced as of this post. Lachazo was apparently under the influence of marijuana and cocaine at the time of the elderly attack. Lachazo has been charged with murder, aggravated battery on a person 65 or older, and arson causing great bodily harm.
Evy Udell was a mild mannered librarian that worked at Florida Atlantic University.
She lived in the Colonnades, an upscale Boca Raton neighborhood.
She is remembered fondly by family and friends as a sweet person. Neighbors say Evy was quiet and kept to herself.
This murder has shocked everyone that was close with Evy.
Is Best Buy Liable for the Attack by a Third Party Deliveryman Installing its Products?
If Best Buy employed Lachazo, there is a high likelihood that they are responsible for his wrongdoing. There may also be liability through Florida’s agency principle, even if Best Buy did not directly employ Lachazo.
Employer Liability for the Acts of Its Employee
Employer liability for employee negligence is normally found through the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. However, this kind of employer liability only attaches if the wrongdoing was within the scope of the employee’s employment.
Arguably, physically attacking a customer is not within the course and scope of what Lachazo was supposed to do. Therefore, there is a colorable argument that this was outside the course and scope of the employment, as it was an intentional tort and not mere negligence.
Negligent Retention and Hiring of an Employee that Commits and Attack
An employer may also be liable for intentional attacks perpetrated by an employee if there was a discoverable history of violence in the employee’s past. For example, a plaintiff can sue an employer for negligent retention and hiring of a violent employee.
The allegations in these kinds of cases typically revolve around the employer’s failure to perform criminal background checks, or failure to terminate an employee after a violent incident was reported.
Negligent hiring and retaining of employees is another legal principle in which an employer can be liable for its employee, even if that employee’s wrongdoing was outside the scope of their employment duties.
Finding Employer Liability through Agency Principle
It appears that Lachazo made the delivery through his employer, J.B. Hunt. J.B. Hunt presumably has a contract with Best Buy to deliver and install its products locally in the Boca Raton area. Although he is not technically an employee, this may make Lachazo an agent of Best Buy. This all depends on the contractual language and the degree of control Best Buy exerted over J.B. Hunt and Lachazo.
Actual Agency of Best Buy through Lachazo
Making Lachazo an actual agent of Best Buy is entirely possible. This largely comes down to Best Buy’s control over Lachazo and JB Hunt.
The elements necessary to establish an actual agency relationship are:
(1) acknowledgement by the principal (Best Buy) that the agent (Lachazo) will work for him;
(2) acceptance by the agent (Lachazo) of the undertaking (delivering Ms. Udell’s appliances for Best Buy); and
(3) control over the agent (Lachazo) actions by the principal (Best Buy).
See Villazon v. Prudential Health Care Plan, Inc., 843 So. 2d 842 (Fla. 2003).
Did Best Buy control who JB Hunt hired and fired? Did they force JB Hunt to do background checks and criminal investigations into their delivery people? Did Best Buy control Lachazo’s hours, delivery routes, criminal background checks, safe driving policy, etc.?
If so, this may be enough to make Lachazo an actual agent of Best Buy.
Apparent Agency of Best Buy through Lachazo
Apparent agency hinges on the representations made, and reliance on those representations.
Under Florida law, a party alleging apparent authority or agency must establish three facts in order to establish apparent authority:
(1) a direct or implied representation of agency by the alleged principal (Best Buy);
(2) reliance on that representation by the plaintiff (Udell); and
(3) detrimental reliance on the representation by the plaintiff (Udell relied on this and acted, to her detriment, based on the reliance).
In this legal principle, Best Buy must have made representations to the relying party, Udell, that Lachazo was a Best Buy employee. This could be in the contract, verbal representations, or the fact that Lachazo showed up in a Best Buy truck or in a Best Buy uniform. Another critical component of apparent agency is that one must prove Udell relied on this representation by Best Buy (i.e. she let him into her house only because he was wearing a Best Buy shirt).
More Questions on an Elder Abuse Matter, or Agency Principle?
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