Sometimes, for individuals who have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it can be difficult to identify who should actually be held responsible in court. Take, for example, transportation businesses such as taxicab companies. If you are the unfortunate victim of an accident involving a taxi where the driver of the taxi was negligent, who is held responsible? Is it the taxi driver as an individual? Or the company under which the taxis operate? For the injured plaintiff in this situation, chances of recovery are much better against the taxi cab company, which is likely to have insurance or the financial wherewithal to actually pay a judgment.
But sometimes, businesses try to limit their liability by essentially constructing a wall between the company and the individuals who are carrying out the company’s business—in the example above, the taxicab driver. One way that businesses do this is by making a distinction between “employees” and “independent contractors”. Businesses are responsible for the actions of their employees; an independent contractor in contrast, is just that: someone that is independent of the company and for which the company should not be held accountable.
Fortunately, avoiding liability is not as simple as merely calling someone an independent contractor. If this issue arises in the context of litigation, the court won’t just look at the paperwork, but will try to determine what the relationship between the business and the driver was in practice and assess how much control the business had over the driver. The court will ask questions such as: who furnishes the equipment for the work? Who sets the working hours and schedule? How is salary and payment determined and provided? While it is not always a straight-forward process to determine the difference between an employee and an independent contractor, the goal is to consider all the circumstances of the relationship and hold companies responsible for the actions of workers that they actually had control over.
In addition, the law establishes what are known as “non-delegable duties”, which are responsibilities that a business always has and cannot avoid simply by saying that they “delegated” them to someone else. For example, in Alabama, state statutes establish that businesses like taxicab companies have a duty to “provide safe and adequate service, equipment and facilities”. This duty is non-delegable; in other words, no matter whom the company hires or the title that they give that worker, the company cannot escape from its duty to provide safe services.
A Cum Laude Honors graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Alabama tort law expert Mike Roberts has successfully litigated cases covering civil litigation, personal injury, negligence, product liability, wrongful death and fraud. He is the author of six editions of Alabama Tort Law, and is licensed to practice law before the United States Supreme Court.