Establishing Employer Liability in a Negligence Case

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2015 | Personal Injury

Many courts in South Central Texas and elsewhere are wrestling with the question of “who is a legal employee,” especially as far as car crashes are concerned, in the redesigned post-financial crisis economy. A long-term dispute between FedEx truckers and managers in California recently ended with a decision that these workers are employees, although that ruling may be appealed. In a similar vein, it looks as if the Uber lawsuit, which raises similar issues, may drag on for quite some time.

Who is an Employee?

Although one might think that such a simple question would have a fairly concise legal answer, that is not the case. One thing is for certain: the court, and not the employer, decides who is and who is not an employee. There are four general approaches:

  • Economic Realities Test: The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, has used this approach in the past. It asks whether or not the worker is economically dependent on the employer; the answer is nearly always “yes.”
  • Common Law Test: Most courts use the right-to-control test. In other words, does the employer control the worker’s hours, type of work, and workload, or is the worker required to be in a certain place at a certain time?
  • Primary Benefits Test: This inquiry is often used when employers try to label workers as “interns” instead of “employees.”
  • Hybrid Test: This method combines the primary benefits and economic reality tests. Many courts use a hybrid approach in Title VII discrimination cases.

Furthermore, the National Labor Relations Board recently expanded the definition of “employer” to include not only paycheck providers, but also franchisors, general contractors, and, arguably, companies that outsource their workforces.

Respondeat Superior

After addressing the threshold question, the inquiry turns to whether or not the employee was acting within the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash or other event. Once again, the answer is nearly always “yes.” About the only exceptions are when workers are commuting from their offices to their homes, or workers who took a company car without permission or committed a similar act.

To establish employer liability in a car crash, there is a two-step inquiry. For a free consultation in this area, contact an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney today. You have a limited amount of time to act.