What is an ‘Agency’ Relationship in Illinois Law and How May It Help if I’ve Been Hit and Injured by a Delivery or Rideshare Driver?

Many major national and international entities use complex corporate structures to attempt to minimize or avoid civil liability, especially in today’s more complicated “gig” economy. They may have layers of subordinates or franchisees which, they will argue, are independent and solely liable for negligence that injures you. These large entities can range from online retailers to pizza restaurants to rideshare companies. Many times, these franchisees or subordinates may be very small and/or very financially limited.

The law, however, recognizes some important exceptions when the larger entity is actually the one “pulling the strings” and maintaining control of the activities being performed, and therefore potentially liable. With the right proof, you may still be able to get the full recovery you deserve by pursuing the (often much larger) parent or principal entity. To accomplish these kinds of goals (and others) in your Illinois accident case, be sure you have placed a skilled Chicago injury attorney on your side.

A case from Florida gives some insight into how success might be achieved. In the Florida case, a former fire chief was traveling a state highway when a pizza delivery driver cut in front of him. The chief reportedly swerved to avoid contact but lost control of his truck and flipped. The accident left the chief with permanent spinal injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic. He died 15 months later as a result of complications of the accident, according to a Florida Today report.

His family sued, but they did not just sue the driver or his employer, which was a franchisee of a larger company. The family included in their lawsuit the franchisor, which was a major pizza chain. The pizza chain argued that the franchisee was an independent entity and that the pizza chain could not, therefore, be liable for any acts of negligence committed by that franchisee or the franchisee’s employees. The pizza chain’s argument was that it did not have the necessary degree of control over the franchisee’s day-to-day operations that the law required in order to make it liable.

The family, however, argued that the franchisee was not independent but was actually what the law calls an “agent” of the pizza chain. That’s why the issue of control was so important. If the pizza company had sufficient control over the franchisee, then an agency relationship may exist and the “principal” (in this case, the pizza chain) may be liable for the negligence or willful misconduct of the “agent” (in this case, the franchisee.)

The jury in Florida concluded that the pizza chain did have the required degree of control, that the franchisee was an agent and that the pizza chain owed the chief’s widow almost $9 million in damages.

So, how might that affect you here in the greater Chicago area?

Let’s look at a fatal accident closer to home. BuzzFeed News reported on the death of T.E., a grandmother who allegedly was walking across a crosswalk in Little Village when she was struck by a van. According to at least one witness, the van’s driver failed to come to a complete stop at the intersection before hitting and fatally injuring the grandmother.

The van driver worked for a shipping company based in Atlanta, but was, at the time of accident, delivering packages for Amazon. The grandmother’s family sued, and, in that lawsuit, they included the driver, the shipping company and Amazon as defendants.

Amazon argued that it could not be liable for the woman’s wrongful death because it was independent from the shipping company. Much like the pizza chain, Amazon argued that it did not direct or control the shipping company’s activities, so it could not be liable.

In Illinois, an entity generally isn’t liable for the acts or inaction of an independent subordinate. However, if the victim demonstrated that the entity retained control over the subordinate’s work and the victim’s injury was caused by the entity’s failure to exercise that control in a reasonable way, then that is an exception to the general rule and may allow an injury victim to sue the larger entity.

In a separate case not connected to this crash, a federal labor investigator found that Amazon did control its subsidiaries. The investigation, according to BuzzFeed, said that “Amazon controlled and supervised the work and working conditions, required [the subsidiary company] to operate out of its facilities, mandated what screenings employees should undergo and what clothing they should wear, and could ‘dictate who they no longer wanted working as’ drivers.” Based on these facts the investigation concluded that Amazon was “a joint employer.”

If you were injured a crash similar to this, and had the evidence to prove that the larger entity retained a degree of control similar to what the federal investigator described, then you might have a path to success using this “retained control” exception.

Whether your car accident injuries are due to a pizza delivery person, package delivery driver or an Uber or Lyft driver, there may be opportunities to obtain the full and fair recovery you deserve through action against the large entities that are “calling the shots.” To do that, though, you’ll need skilled counsel. The knowledgeable Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck are here to help and to provide you with the legal representation you need. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.