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Court Finds That Employer Not Responsible For Conduct of Independent Contractor

If you have been involved in a Tennessee automobile accident and are considering whether to file a lawsuit, one of the questions that you must contemplate is whether the defendant is going to have the funds, or insurance, necessary to pay for any damages that you may be awarded. When you can’t actually recover from a defendant, it may not be worth your time and expense to initiate a lawsuit.

One way that plaintiffs can sometimes obtain a better chance of recovering on their award is to sue a defendant’s employer as well if the accident occurred while the defendant was on the job. This is called vicarious liability. While vicarious liability can be used to recover from employers who are responsible for their employees, the courts draw the line at making employers responsible for independent contractors that they may hire. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at what distinguishes an employee from an independent contractor in this analysis.

In this truck accident case, E.M. was struck by a truck driven by C.C. E.M. was thrown from his own vehicle and suffered serious injuries. He sued C.C. and Highways, Inc., for his injuries. At the time of the accident, C.C. was driving a dump truck for Highways, Inc., and was performing his duties as a driver for Highways, Inc.  E.M. argued that C.C. was acting in the role of employee, while Highways argued that C.C. was acting in the role of independent contractor. Highways quickly moved for summary judgment and, in support of their motion, submitted a list of nineteen undisputed facts, based on an affidavit from C.C., that they alleged showed that C.C. was a contractor. E.M. disputed nine of these facts and argued that this was enough to create genuine issues of material fact as to C.C.’s status and avoid summary judgment. The court held a brief hearing and ultimately concluded that there were no material facts in dispute. Accordingly, the court dismissed the claims.

E.M. appealed. He argued that he had raised genuine issues as to whether C.C. was an employee. Under Tennessee law, courts look to several factors to determine whether individuals are employees or independent contractors, including: (1) the right to control the conduct; (2) the right of termination; (3) the method of payment; (4) the freedom to select and hire helpers; (5) who furnishes tools and equipment (6) self-scheduling of work hours and; (7) the freedom to contract with others.

In his affidavit, C.C. explicitly stated that he was the sole owner of his own dump truck and that he contracted wth Highways, Inc., but was not employed only with them. He further stated that he handled his own working hours, could hire individuals to help him, maintained his own equipment, and had the right to control the details of his work. In response, E.M. argued that Highways assigned C.C. to certain jobs, told him where to show up for work and when, and therefore exerted significant control over C.C.’s work. The court disagreed. It held that while Highways, Inc. exerted some control over C.C. because it assigned him to certain jobs, that did not automatically make him an employee of the company.

E.M. also argued that because C.C. only worked for Highways, Inc., he did not have the freedom to contract with others. Again, the court disagreed. It found that while C.C. had chosen to work exclusively with Highways, Inc., at that time, nothing within the evidence or the contracts suggested that he was prohibited from working with other companies or had lost his right to contract with those companies. Because the court did not find E.M.’s arguments persuasive, it upheld the lower court’s ruling.

While it can make good strategic sense to sue an employer when you are involved in an accident that occurs with an employee, you must be certain that the relationship is actually one of employee and employer or you risk the possibility that your claim against the employer may be thrown out. Knowledgeable Tennessee truck accident attorney Eric Beasley can help evaluate the likely employer relationship in your case and argue that your defendant was an employee.  For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Dismisses Truck Accident Case Where Plaintiffs Failed To Preserve Evidence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 2, 2018.

Tennessee Court Reverses Summary Judgment Ruling Based on Comparative Fault, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 13, 2017

Tennessee Court Employs Rule of Seven to Evaluate Comparative Negligence Claim Against Minor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 13, 2016