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Bad news: $730K train derailment; Good news: Free venison!

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in Hiring,Human Resources

William Bowman and his employer, Pyramid Stone Industries, a granite quarrying business in Elberton, had an informal agreement: Bowman, who lived in a trailer next to the quarry, kept an eye on the place after business hours.

As part of the agreement, Bowman frequently used the company’s golf cart to travel between the quarry and his home.

On Thanksgiving Day in 2005, deer hunters stopped by Bowman’s trailer to offer him a deer they had left at their camp. Bowman took the cart to pick up the deer, a trip that required him to cross over some railroad tracks.

Returning from that trip, Bowman accidentally ran the golf cart into a ditch. Fearing Pyramid managers would be unhappy to find their golf cart in a ditch, Bowman took a front-end loader from the quarry to recover it.

Bowman succeeded in retrieving the golf cart, but the front-end loader left a kink in the railroad tracks. Shortly after, a northbound CSX train hit the kink and derailed, resulting in $730,000 in damage. CSX sued Pyramid, charging negligent hiring and vicarious liability.

The U.S. District Court in Athens struck down CSX’s claims, noting that Bowman’s use of the cart was “inextricably intertwined with his personal mission to stock his freezer with venison,” and his use of the front-end loader was a further piece of personal business designed to shield himself from blame for the cart incident. Simply returning equipment after using it did not constitute company business, the court found.

As for negligent hiring, CSX charged that Bowman had an extensive criminal record. A Pyramid boss countered that in the quarry business, if he refused to “hire a person that had been in jail,” he “would not have very many employees.”

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