Is an Employer Responsible for a Fatal Car Accident Caused By Its Employee?
When a car accident leads to serious injury or death, the negligent driver may not be the only legally responsible party. If that driver was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident–say, they were making a delivery for their boss–then the employer can be held liable for any injuries suffered by third parties. In Florida law, this is known as vicarious liability.
But it is critical to understand that vicarious liability only applies when an employer-employee relationship exists. It does not cover situations where the negligent driver was acting as an independent contractor hired by another party. In other words, if a restaurant hires its own employees to deliver food, that restaurant can be held vicariously liable if that employee causes an accident while making a delivery. However, if the restaurant relies on a third-party independent contractor to make its deliveries, then the restaurant is typically not liable.
Judge: Nursing Assistant Was “Independent Contractor,” So Registry Not Liable for Fatal Pedestrian Accident
The distinction between “employee” and “independent contractor” is not always immediately clear. In some personal injury cases, a trial is necessary to decide whether or not an employer-employee relationship existed. In other cases, it may be so clear that a judge decides a trial is unnecessary.
To give an example of the latter, a federal judge in Fort Myers, Florida, recently dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit brought against a nurse registry service. The facts of this case, Estate of Jennings v. Gulfshore Private Home Health Care, LLC, are not difficult to understand. The defendant offers a service that refers home healthcare professionals to individual clients. In 2017, the defendant assigned one of these professionals, a certified nursing assistant, to provide transportation for a client. While transporting the client, the nursing assistant struck and killed a pedestrian.
The victim’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant, essentially alleging it was vicariously liable for the nursing assistant’s actions. The judge granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case at summary judgment, however, explaining that under Florida law, the nursing assistant was clearly an “independent contractor” and not an employee of the defendant.
Specifically, a provision in the Florida Statutes expressly states that a certified nursing assistant “referred by contract” by a nursing registry is “deemed an independent contractor and not an employee of the nurse registry.” Under the circumstances, the judge said there was no way the family could recover any damages from the defendant. The judge sympathized with the family’s loss and “understands they want justice and to hold accountable those whose actions caused their loved one’s death.” But as a strictly legal matter, the defendant did not “employ” the negligent nursing assistant.
Speak with a Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
While this particular case may not have worked out for the victim’s family, it is important to note that in many personal injury cases, the question of whether a negligent driver is an employee requires a much more comprehensive analysis. This is why it is critical to engage the services of a Boca Raton car accident attorney who can assist you in fully investigating the circumstances surrounding your own accident. Contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a free, no-risk consultation, so we can learn more about your situation and advise you on how we can help.