Legal Issues in the New Economy
As the sharing economy continues to expand, employment and personal injury law sometimes have a hard time keeping up.
Uber has been in and out of court over the last several months, dealing with labor organization issues, as well as compensation and employee benefits. Lyft recently settled a major lawsuit over whether its drivers should be considered employees or independent contractors, for tax and labor law purposes. And Airbnb, the real estate sharing service, finds itself increasingly at odds with various cities which accuse users of trying to circumvent the hotel tax.
Despite these controversies, given the financial success of these former startups, it is only a matter of time before additional companies try to get a piece of the pie.
If a snowbird is injured at an Airbnb rental in Alamo Heights, who is legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries? Likewise, if an Uber or Lyft driver causes a car wreck on Interstate 10 that injures a passenger, is the company liable for damages?
Respondeat superior may be applicable in all these situations. Just like the captain is ultimately responsible for the crew’s conduct, an employer is legally responsible for the negligent acts of its employees.
For liability to attach to an employer, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) must be an employee. There is a difference between employment for negligence purposes, and employment for tax law and other purposes. To determine employment, courts generally look to the amount of control that the employer exerts over the worker. 1099s and other agreements are admissible to show intent, but employer control is the key factor.
The employee must also be operating within the course and scope of employment. This phrase is also interpreted in a very plaintiff-friendly manner. If the employer gains any benefit from the employee’s action, this element of respondeat superior is satisfied. Even actions like driving a company car that has a logo on it have been held to be within the course and scope of employment.
Victims in car crash cases are generally entitled to compensation for both their economic damages, such as property loss, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.
The tortfeasor may not be the only person liable for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New Braunfels, contact our office. An attorney can arrange for victims to receive ongoing medical care, even if they have no money and no insurance.