Illinois Appellate Court Discusses Vicarious Liability Doctrine in Truck Accident Lawsuit Involving Multiple Parties

The theory of vicarious liability states that an employer will be held liable for the tortious actions of its employees that occur during the course and scope of the worker’s employment. This doctrine seems straightforward, but it can be difficult to determine whether this agency relationship existed at the time that a personal injury accident took place. As seasoned Illinois personal injury lawyers, we are prepared to help you evaluate your claim to see whether vicarious liability applies to your situation.

The Illinois Court of Appeal recently considered a claim in which the plaintiff was injured in an accident involving a truck that was driven by an employee of a company. The driver had just delivered a load of cucumbers to a picking plant. The plaintiff filed a complaint alleging 27 causes of action including negligent hiring and vicarious liability against the driver’s employee and the company that brokered the delivery.

The plaintiff settled with many of the defendants and the brokerage firm moved for summary judgment. The defendants argued that the agency relationship ended after the driver delivered the load of produce, while the plaintiff alleged that it continued until the driver reached his “home base.” The trial court agreed with the brokerage company and dismissed the claims against it on the basis that the accident occurred after the work that the produce company hired the brokerage firm to do was completed.

The plaintiff appealed. On review, the court framed the issues as turning on whether a principal-agent relationship existed between the brokerage firm and the employer when the accident took place. The plaintiff argued that an agency relationship was created when the brokerage firm exercised control over the employer’s delivery of the produce and that it continued after the delivery.

The court rejected this argument and agreed with the defendant that the agency relationship terminated when the employer completed its contractual duty to deliver the load of produce and the brokerage company ceased to exercise control over the driver. It stated the general rule that the agency relationship is an exception to the general rule that the person who causes a tortious injury is responsible for the victim’s injuries. An individual is liable for an employee’s actions, but not for the actions of an independent contractor. To determine the difference, the court examines the level of control that can be exercised over the individual. If there is substantial control, then the person is likely an employee. On the other hand, an independent contractor is hired to obtain an outcome or to perform a task with an ultimate result.

Applied here, the court noted that the brokerage company instructed the trucking company to obtain a temperature-controlled truck and to check in once each day, and it imposed a system of fines if the trucking company did not follow its requirements that were passed on from the packing plant. The brokerage firm didn’t own the produce and was not acting in furtherance of its own business in requiring a refrigerated truck. Instead, it simply acted as a broker, passing on information from the packing plant. Because the accident occurred after the delivery was completed and the broker ceased to exercise control over the driver, the court concluded that the brokerage firm was not liable.

If you were involved in a car accident and believe that the person who caused the crash was working at the time of the accident, you should speak to a seasoned Chicago car accident lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation from the employer. We offer a free consultation to help you understand your legal rights and the best way to secure the outcome that you deserve. Call us now at 773-545-8849 or contact us online.

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