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Georgia Court Holds Employers Not Liable for Accidents By Independent Contractors

Companies throughout Georgia and the United States are increasingly turning to independent contractors to satisfy various job functions in their businesses. Independent contractors save businesses on employment taxes, limit the number of employees who may access benefits, and reduce the liability of the company. As a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates, companies have less exposure in negligence and personal injury lawsuits when independent contractors are involved.

In this Georgia auto accident case, P.S. was making a delivery to Wells Fargo Bank as a driver for BeavEx when his vehicle collided with E.M.’s vehicle. E.M. sued P.S. to recover compensation for injuries that he incurred. E.M. also sued BeavEx, P.S.’s employer at the time. After discovery was completed in the case, BeavEx moved for summary judgment, arguing that since P.S. was an independent contractor at the time of the accident, rather than an employee, BeavEx was not liable. The trial court agreed and dismissed the claims against BeavEx. E.M. and their uninsured motorist carrier filed an appeal.

The Georgia Court of Appeals noted that in order to determine whether P.S. was an employee or an independent contractor, it had to look at whether the contract gave, or BeavEx assumed, a right for BeavEx to control P.S.’s work, including the timing and manner of delivery. When there is a significant degree of control by the employer, an employee-employer relationship generally exists. When there is less control, the relationship is usually one of independent contractor-employer.

Here, P.S. had a contract with BeavEx to provide delivery services to customers that BeavEx located. Under the contract, P.S. had the discretion to determine the means and manner of delivery, including timing, route, schedule, etc. P.S. was required to provide his own vehicle and vehicle insurance, had to pay for his own expenses, and was given a 1099 for his work rather than a W-2. E.M. argued that despite these provisions, P.S. was an employee because he was required to wear a uniform bearing BeavEx’s logo, was required to make deliveries within specified time periods, was required to provide an annual driving record to BeavEx, and was required to report any accidents to BeavEx.

Looking more closely at these requirements, the Court of Appeals noted that most of them were for the benefit of BeavEx’s customers, or controlled by BeavEx’s customers as opposed to BeavEx itself. For instance, P.S. was required to wear a uniform so that BeavEx’s customers could identify him for their own security purposes. He was also required to make deliveries in time frames that were set by customers rather than BeavEx itself. Likewise, the provision of records to BeavEx and the reporting of accidents, while allowing BeavEx to ensure the quality of its drivers, also gave BeavEx’s customers the assurances that their deliveries would be conducted safely and reliably, without incident. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that these factors did not show that BeavEx exerted significant control over P.S.’s actions.

Here, at the time of the accident, P.S. was driving his own vehicle, which he had insured. He was responding to a delivery request by an independent customer, which BeavEx had facilitated. Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that it simply couldn’t find that an employee-employer relationship existed. P.S. was an independent contractor, and, as a result, BeavEx was not liable for his accident with E.M. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court.

If you are involved in an accident with an individual who is on the job at the time of your injury, one of your initial inquiries should be whether the individual was acting as an employee or an independent contractor. If the defendant is an employee, you may also be able to sue the employer for the injuries that you experienced. If you are uncertain how to figure out if the defendant in your potential case was an employee, or you need additional investigation assistance, Atlanta car accident attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert can help. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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