Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Agency Relationship for Injured Taxi Driver

Ordinarily, a person who is injured must seek a remedy from the person who caused the injury. However, the doctrine of respondeat superior provides an exception to that rule, in that a principal may be held liable for the actions of an agent who causes an injury.

Edward Grinyov was installing dispatch equipment in taxicabs at the local garage of dispatch company 303 Taxi. Grinyov was injured when another taxicab driver backed his vehicle into him pinning him against the fence.

The driver of the other cab was bringing the car to the 303 Taxi garage following the directions of a 303 Taxi manager. Because of Grinyov’s injuries, he brought a lawsuit against the driver of that cab, the owner of that particular taxicab and 303 Taxi.

The case was tried before a jury, which found the driver, owner and 303 Taxi all responsible for Grinyov’s injuries. 303 Taxi was liable because the jury found it maintained a principal-agent relationship with the owner of the taxicab.

303 Taxi appealed the decision claiming the evidence did not support the jury’s finding that it had a principal-agent relationship with the owner of the taxicab. It also claimed that it suffered prejudice because the jury heard evidence concerning its insurance coverage and financial status.

The appeals panel discussed the fact that the label “independent contractor” does not preclude liability if the person is also an agent. Each case presents distinct facts and circumstances, all of which must be considered to determine if a person is an agent or an independent contractor.

The main consideration is the right to control the manner of doing the work. Other factors to consider include:  the issue of hiring, the ability to discharge, the manner of direction of the servant, the right to terminate the relationship and the character of the supervision done.

The presence of one or more of these factors are indicators that serve as a guide to resolving the main issue, which is that of control. A jury decides a dispute over the existence and scope of agency.

Although 303 Taxi tried in its brief to distinguish this set of facts from cases that it relied upon, the 1st District found those case unlike the one before it.

303 Taxi here required a new taxi driver to take a test at its facility. 303 Taxi approved new drivers. 303 Taxi taught classes to the drivers, disciplined them and required them to take coupons they distributed for customers.

303 Taxi conducted inspections of vehicles that went above and beyond those required by local and state laws. 303 Taxi had its own company rules that all of its cab drivers were required to follow.

In addition, 303 Taxi purchased vehicle insurance for all vehicles and was later reimbursed by the monthly dues it charged affiliates, its drivers. Considering this evidence coupled with other evidence of control that the dispatch service exercised over taxicabs, all supported the finding of agency in this case.

Furthermore, the taxi owner’s desk was in 303 Taxi’s office and taxi owner companies made no profit but paid more than $500,000 to 303 Taxi in the year of the incident. There was no “total failure” or lack of evidence that would support a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The jury’s verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and no new trial was warranted.

Evidence of insurance can be used to show agency, ownership, control, bias or prejudice. In this case, the insurance information that the jury heard was properly admitted to show agency, so there was no error in allowing that evidence to be heard. Further, the jury was given a limiting instruction on the issue and it is presumed that the jury followed that instruction.

The financial status of a party is immaterial and evidence admitted for the sole purpose of emphasizing the same is improper.  But, this does not preclude the admission of evidence about a party’s wealth when it is relevant to an issue in the case.

Here, the evidence about the money paid by the taxi owner to 303 Taxi was admitted because it showed that 303 Taxi had leverage and control of the owner of the taxicab. There was no error in admitting the evidence.

Accordingly, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the jury’s verdict holding 303 Taxi liable as well as the other defendants under the theory of principal-agency.

Grinyov v. 303 Taxi, LLC, 2017 IL App (1st) 160193.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accident lawsuits, car accident cases, bicycle accident cases, pedestrian injury lawsuits and motorcycle crash cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or died as a result of the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Norwood Park, North Park, Albany Park, Avondale, Lakeview, Near North Side, West Town, Humboldt Park, Near West Side, South Lawndale, Brighton Park, Gage Park, Chicago Lawn, Washington Heights, West Pullman), Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie, Wilmette, Waukegan, Elgin, Aurora, St. Charles, Geneva, Westchester, Mount Prospect, Park Forest, Forest Park and Crestwood, Ill.

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