Is a Company Liable for an Accident Caused by an “Independent Contractor”?
It is fairly well established in Tennessee law that an employer is vicariously liable for a car accident caused by an employee within the scope of his employment. But the same rule does not typically apply to independent contractors. And in many cases, it may not be immediately apparent which category a negligent driver falls into.
Court Reiterates 7 Factors for Classifying Workers
Here is an illustration of how Tennessee courts sort out these disputes. This is taken from a recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The case itself involves a 2014 accident between a pickup truck and a dump truck.
The plaintiff was driving the pickup truck. He approached an intersection in Warren County that was under construction. The dump truck was working at the site. The dump truck collided with the plaintiff’s pickup truck, throwing him from the vehicle and causing him to sustain “serious injuries,” according to court records.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the dump truck driver and the company responsible for the construction site. The plaintiff alleged the company was liable for the actions of the dump truck driver as its “employee.” The company maintained the dump truck driver was an “independent contractor,” and therefore it could not be held vicariously liable for the accident.
The courts sided with the company. The Court of Appeals, upholding a trial judge’s earlier ruling, said the company was entitled to summary judgment because the dump truck driver was not an “employee” as defined by Tennessee law. The Court noted there are seven factors that need to be considered when deciding if a worker is properly classified as an “employee” or “independent contractor”:
- Whether the company has the right to control the worker’s conduct.
- Whether the company has the right to fire the worker.
- The method by which the company pays the worker.
- Whether or not the worker has the right to select and hire his or her own helpers.
- Whether the worker has to furnish his or her own tools to complete the job.
- Whether the worker can schedule his or her own work hours.
- Whether the worker is free to offer their services to “other entities.”
No single factor is necessarily controlling, but the Court of Appeals noted the “right to control” is often given somewhat greater weight.
In this case, the Court said it was undisputed that the dump truck driver owned his own vehicle, paid his own fuel and maintenance costs, and was free to accept jobs from other companies. The company exercised no direct control over the driver aside from telling him “where to unload the materials and whether the job site would be operational the following day.” This did not, in the Court’s view, rise to the level of a “right to control” necessary to classify the driver as an employee.
Speak with a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer About Your Accident
Car and truck accidents often involve multiple parties with varying degrees of liability. An experienced Knoxville car accident lawyer can assist you in investigating your accident and taking legal action against the appropriate parties. Call Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to speak with a member of our team today.