Delivery Drivers and the Independent Contractor Defense

In a recent Georgia car accident decision, the court considered vicarious liability involving a driver whom a company hired as an independent contractor. The driver was making a delivery to the bank for a client of the company as a contracted delivery driver in his private Honda Civic when he crashed into a couple’s car. The couple sued him and the company to recover damages for their injuries arising from the crash. The lower court granted summary judgment for the company on the ground that the driver was an independent contractor instead of an employee. The key thing a court looks to is 1) is there actually a contract and 2) if so how much or little control does the company exert over the driver. They analyze schedules, rules, and strictness. The more control evidence, the more likely that the driver is an employee versus an independent contractor.

The insurer filed an appeal as the couple’s uninsured motorist carrier. It claimed that the lower court had made a mistake in finding the driver was an independent contractor either because the evidence showed there was a factual issue related to a possible employer-employee relationship or because the driver was the company’s statutory employee under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) regulations.

The appellate court explained that deciding whether two parties have an employer-employee relationship or an employer-independent contractor relationship involves applying a test. The question is whether the employer has the right to control how, when, and whether the work is done, rather than the right simply to require certain specific results that conform to a binding contract. If a contract specifically calls one party an independent contractor, this relationship is presumed to be the correct relationship unless there’s evidence showing the other party took control as an employer. In this case, the company contracted with the driver to work as an independent contractor delivering things for customers that the company located.

The contract stated that the driver would be responsible for the means and manner of getting the end result of the provision of services, and he had to use independent discretion and judgment about how to safely pick up and deliver goods. The driver provided his own vehicle and had to keep up insurance and operating costs. He got a 1099 and wasn’t treated as an employee in terms of taxes or workers’ compensation. He did wear an ID badge with the company’s logo, but this was to respond to customer security worries.

The appellate court noted that the contract explicitly envisioned an independent contractor relationship. The insurer argued that the company still exerted enough control over how the deliveries occurred, such that there was a factual issue about whether he was an employee or an independent contractor. It pointed to the badge and the clear delivery window, as well as the requirement that the driver gives an annual driving record and permit inspection of his car. The company also made the driver report his accidents to the company to let the customer know.

The court reasoned that the contract explained the badge, and the customers’ interests set the performance times and windows within which delivery had to occur. Similarly, inspections addressed a valid concern about the independent contractor’s ability to carry out a delivery. The driver followed those requirements in order to be able to complete deliveries, rather than because the company controlled the timing of the work that was assigned. The insurer claimed that even if he weren’t an employee under legal principles, the FMCSA regulations made him a statutory employee.

This argument was the insurer grabbing at straws. The driver was driving his Honda Civic at the time of the accident, instead of a commercial motor vehicle. The judgment was affirmed.

The car accident attorneys in Atlanta at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have substantial experience and are ready to help you with your possible case. Feel free to contact us for a complimentary case consultation if you are interested in learning more about the difficulties you may encounter and the options you may have.