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Bellamy v. Ameri-Pride – Carrier’s Attempt to Avoid Liability Fails

Companies have a responsibility to pay for damages caused by their employees in automobile accidents as part of the vicarious liability doctrine. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are a few defenses to this doctrine, however, and one would be denial that the individual was an employee. In these cases, Fort Myers car accident attorneys recognize that the defendant’s word shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value. In some instances, it’s up to the courts to decide whether an individual was an employee, based on the working relationship of the parties.

This matters to car accident victims because it can mean the difference between pursuing a liability action against the at-fault driver individually, and pursuing action against the employer and its insurance company. The latter may ultimately result in a higher payout.

In the recent case of Bellamy v. Ameri-Pride, Inc., the court noted the company’s alleged practice of illegally paying workers under-the-table in cash, therefore eliminating a paper trail that would have required it to pay taxes or workers’ compensation insurance, while also relieving it of responsibility for injury claims by employees.

According to court records, the plaintiff was rear-ended by a vehicle owned by the company and driven by a man who purported to be an employee of the firm.

However, the defendant company denied the driver was ever an employee, and further asserted the driver had stolen the vehicle. Based on this fact, it moved for a summary judgment. In its motion, the company submitted an affidavit by the firm’s president, attesting to these facts, and insisting the driver had no authority to operate the vehicle.

The summary judgment was granted.

However, the appellate court reversed on the grounds there were genuine issues of material fact regrading the driver’s status as an employee, despite the company’s insistence to the contrary.

The court indicated the facts tended to support the inference that the at-fault driver was an employee who was driving the vehicle with the firm’s knowledge and consent, despite the company’s assertion otherwise.

First, the at-fault driver at the time of the crash supplied the investigating officer with a business card, with the company’s name and logo. On the card, it listed the name of the firm’s director of operations. The plaintiff called this individual, who reportedly acknowledged the crash and offered a certain sum of money to settle the crash claim.

Additionally, the official accident report indicated the driver produced an auto insurance card that bore the company name, insurance carrier and policy number.

There was also the deposition of a man who worked as the company’s general manager, beginning two months prior the crash. He indicated that during his tenure (which lasted two years), the company regularly hired workers without request for identification or driver’s license. These so-called “cash workers,’ the general manager explained, were given access to company vehicles, sometimes overnight. On the several occasions in which these workers were involved in crashes, he testified the firm would settle those claims without involving the insurance company. In cases where the firm was contacted by the other driver in pursuit of higher compensation, the former employee testified that it was common practice for the company to falsely indicate the vehicle was stolen.

The company argued the plaintiff’s affidavit regarding the conversation with the director of operations was inadmissible under Florida law. The court found that while that may be true, there was enough evidence absent that to suggest the at-fault driver was operating the company vehicle with the firm’s knowledge and consent.

The case was remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Bellamy v. Ameri-Pride, Inc., June 6, 2014, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Car Accident Lawsuit Involving Rental Company to Proceed, May 20, 2014, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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