Illinois Appellate Court Sorts Out Agency Relationship in Truck Accident that Killed Pedestrian on the Side of the Road

The Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed a jury’s wrongful death verdict regarding the death of a woman who was hit by a truck as she stood on the side of a road next to her disabled car. The woman’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the truck driver, the truck’s owner, the trucking company that hired both of them and the logistics company who arranged for the shipping.

The woman’s family was successful at trial against all of the defendants in obtaining a jury verdict. On appeal the defendant’s argument centered on trial errors and agency issues.

The truck involved in the incident was in a supply chain routed for a major automaker. The automaker had arranged a particular supply change to reduce the time it would take to buy and hold parts, getting them only when the parts were needed.

To maintain this supply chain, the automaker hired a logistics company. The logistics company hired a subcontractor to do the trucking, and the subcontractor hired a truck owner and driver to do the transportation.

The issue in the case was agency. The question centered around: On whose behalf was the trucker operating at the time of the incident that killed this woman? The subcontractor admitted that the driver was its agent. The only other issue was the logistics company, which denied it had any relationship, agency or otherwise with the driver or the subcontractor.

At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence that the logistics company retained control over the driver, his routes, his times and other incidental parts of completing his work.

The jury heard about the contracts between the defendants and about the logistics company’s policies and procedures. The driver was pulling the logistics provider’s trailer at the time of the accident.

The plaintiff’s trucking expert gave opinion testimony that at the time of this accident, the trucker was considered an employee of the logistics company under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

The logistics company denied it controlled any of the driver’s activities. The driver was an independent contractor under a contract between it and the subcontractor.

The logistics company also claimed that the automaker was the one who implemented the policies and procedures. The logistics company’s trucking expert opined that the trucker was not considered an employee under the same Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations.

On appeal, the defendant logistics company claimed it was against the manifest weight of the evidence for the jury to find that the truck driver was its agent.

A principal may be liable for the acts of its agent under the doctrine of respondeat superior. An agency relationship is one in which the principal may control the acts of the agent. Independent contractors are not under the orders or controls of the person for whom he or she does the work. Normally, an independent contractor is not considered an agent, but maybe considered one in certain circumstances.

No precise formula exists for determining the existence of an agency relationship, but the main consideration is the right to control. A principal need not exercise control over the worker, it need only have the person to do so. The right to hire and fire, the right to terminate the relationship and the manner of direction of the servant can be considered in determining the existence of the relationship.

The court also discussed that it was relevant as to the manner of payment, whether the employer provides the tools and materials to the worker, and whether the employer deducts or pays for insurance, taxes and Social Security.

Taking into account all of the evidence heard at trial, the court determined the jury could properly find an agency relationship between the logistics company and the other defendants.

On appeal, the logistics company argued that it was error for the trial judge to allow a manager of the subcontractor to testify that in his opinion the subcontractor was an agent of the logistics company. The logistics company claimed that his testimony was provided as an expert but was in fact improper lay opinion about the relationship of the parties.

The court found his opinion admissible as the manager had been a participant in the relationship for years. An agent cannot bind the principal by claiming an agency relationship, but he may testify at trial about the nature of the relationship. The manager’s testimony was proper and the defendant suffered no prejudice when the court refused the jury instruction telling the jury to disregard his opinion.

On appeal, there were other issues raised by the defendant, including whether it was proper to allow the plaintiff to amend the complaint before trial. It was legally permissible to amend the complaint to conform to the proofs. In another side issue, the appeals panel found that it was not proper to allow the jury to apportion the wrongful-death damages to each surviving next-of-kin.

In summary, the Illinois Appellate Court found that the parties received a fair trial and the jury’s verdict was affirmed.

McKale v. W.D. Trucking, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 132625.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accident cases, automobile accident cases, work injury cases and construction site injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Crestwood, Hickory Hills, Bedford Park, Brookfield, LaGrange, Lemont, Lyons, Lincolnwood, Lincolnshire, Blue Island, Bellwood, Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Chicago (Garfield Ridge, North Lawndale, Pill Hill, Pilsen, Prairie District, Printer’s Row, Roscoe Village, Rogers Park, Sauganash, South Shore, Wrigleyville, Canaryville, Bronzeville, Beverly), Joliet, Des Plaines, Deerfield and Cicero, Ill.

Related blog posts:

$7.25 Million Jury Verdict for Worker Killed on Highway Shoulder

Illinois Appellate Court Distinguishes Unit-Judgment Rule in Wrongful Death Case

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Lake County, Ill., Court Dismissal of Wrongful Death Boating Accident on the “In-Concert” Theory of Liability and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress