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Georgia Court Reviews “Respondeat Superior” Doctrine in Negligence Action Arising from Car-Motorcycle Accident

If you have been injured in a car accident with a negligent driver who was operating the vehicle while working within the scope of his or her employment, you may be entitled to recover damages from both the driver and the employer. Keep in mind, however, that under Georgia law, an employer typically will not be responsible for the torts (negligent acts) committed by an employee who exercises an “independent business” and is not subject to the immediate “direction and control” of the employer. But what this truly means, under the facts and circumstances of any one particular case, is often subject to a court’s interpretation.

State courts are guided by earlier case law, within the same jurisdiction, under a similar set of facts. Because each and every car accident case is unique, it is important to understand how a local court would be inclined to view your negligence case. In order to get a clear sense of how a court would rule on your car accident claim, you are encouraged to speak with an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area.

In a recent case, Boatner et al. v. Show Media, LLC (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), the plaintiffs were on a motorcycle when it was struck by a car that was part of group of vehicles being driven around the Atlanta area as part of an advertising campaign. Plaintiffs brought an action against the driver of the vehicle for negligence, and against Show Media (and its related corporate organizations) under the principles of negligent entrustment and respondeat superior. It seems that in this case, Show Media hired companies to produce promotional events. One company entered into a contract with Show Media to create an “advertising event” by providing eight “wrapped” cars (including drivers) for a certain time period, and for a certain fee. There were no other specifics about the advertising campaign. Another company was in charge of obtaining the car and drivers.

Various people affiliated with the promotional event in question testified about the particulars of the arrangement: most of the evidence revealed that Show Media provided daily instructions for the cars’ itineraries. One person testified that if anyone wanted to alter a car’s route during this time period, they were required to get permission from Show Media first. Show Media moved for summary judgment, arguing that although the driver in the accident negligently made a U-turn into oncoming traffic, right in front of plaintiffs, striking their motorcycle knocking them to the road, it could not be liable under either theory because the driver was an independent contractor.

The trial court agreed and granted Show Media’s motion, finding that the company that rented the cars was the entity that hired, paid and supervised the drivers. Further, the court found that Show Media’s only element of supervision related to its initial meeting to establish the daily-designated route. Under these facts, the court found that the driver was an independent contractor. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that based on the evidence, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the driver was a temporary employee of the company and not an independent contractor.

The court of appeals reversed the decision, pointing out that under the applicable Georgia law, the test for determining whether an employer is exercising a degree of control over an independent contractor is whether the contract gives, or the employer assumes, the right to control the time, manner, and method of the performance of work. Here, the court concluded that there was evidence to support the notion that Show Media maintained enough control over the driver that she could be considered an employee. The evidence was not undisputed.

Here, the plaintiffs’ negligence suit against the company and the driver will be presented to a trier of fact. Understanding the applicable law was a key component of this case. Like most negligence cases, it is important to fully understand the statutes and case law as it pertains to your accident claim. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. 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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