There are two ways a company can be held liable for the actions of its employee. One, vicarious liability, alleges that while the company did nothing wrong, it can be held responsible solely because it employed the worker. The other alleges direct liability for negligent hiring, training, supervision, etc.
It is in these situations where the complexities of injury law and employment law intersect, and it’s important for injured parties to seek an experienced New York City accident attorney who can ensure a thorough analysis of your case and development of a strong, effective legal strategy.
This is especially true in the wake of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in the matter of Harris, et al. v. FedEx National LTL, Inc.. This was a fatal tractor-trailer crash in which the driver conceded negligence after losing control on the highway. However, one of the primary defendants in the case, FedEx National, was able to evade liability by arguing the driver wasn’t its employee, and therefore, it wasn’t responsible.
If trucking companies (and those providing motor coach and busing services) can create a measure of distance between them and the drivers by hiring independent contractors, they may be able to avoid responsibility when something goes wrong. That means we can expect more companies to begin doing this.
However, our attorneys know that when we delve deeper into employment law, the mere fact that a company calls a worker “independent” doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true, and liability based on vicarious liability will be determined by courts weighing the details of the relationship between the driver and the company.
This kind of analysis is more often used in workers’ compensation claims, when companies argue they aren’t responsible to pay benefits for work-related injuries because the worker wasn’t technically an “employee,” but rather an “independent contractor.”
In the Harris case, a commercial truck driver rolled his tractor trailer on the highway, ultimately blocking both lanes, which resulted in a collision that killed one motorist and seriously injured a passenger.
At the time of the wreck, the driver was directly employed by a firm called Fresh Start. The tractor was leased by a third company, and the two trailers he was hauling were owned by FedEx, the largest of the three companies.
The decedent’s widow filed suit against all three. A district court granted FedEx’s motion for a summary judgment in its favor, after the firm argued the worker was not an employee, and the worker’s actual employer was an independent contractor.
Upon appeal, the Eight Circuit panel noted that FedEx is recognized and registered as a carrier by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association. It does have its own drivers and vehicles to delivery shipped goods to customers. However, it also contracts with independent motor carriers to transport goods between service centers. These so-called “sub-haulers” provide their own drivers, tractors and trailers for the haul. In some cases, FedEx will provide the trailers, but the sub-hauler will provide the driver and tractor. That was the case here.
In this situation, drivers were given 12 detailed requirements when pulling these trailers. The question was whether this detailed agreement established an employer-employee relationship. The appellate court held it did not, as the goal was to ensure on-time delivery – the end goal – rather than the specific manner in which the work was performed.
The degree of control is critical in establishing the employer-employee relationship. The courts too will analyze the method of payment, the length of the assignment, whether an employer provides certain tools and what kind of direct supervision the alleged employer provides the worker.
In this case, the court found, the driver was not FedEx’s employee. Further, FedEx was not acting as a carrier under the terms that would normally be applicable under FMCSA’s guidelines, and therefore did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Harris, et al. v. FedEx National LTL, Inc., July 24, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Pierson v. Service America Corp – Liability for Stadium Alcohol Vendors, July 10, 2014, New York City Truck Accident Lawyer Blog