Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What can you sue for in a personal injury case?”
A terrible case in Georgia appears to have resulted in a massive penalty for one of the country’s largest rental car companies, Avis. The case shows that though corporations often try and evade liability by labeling contractors as “independent”, this trick is not entirely effective in eliminating legal risk, even for companies as large and wealthy as Avis.
So what happened in this case? The issue began back in 2013 when two women, Adrienne Smith and Brianna Johnson, suffered catastrophic injuries after being hit by a car. You might be wondering, what does that have to do with Avis? The car that was stolen was an Avis rental car, but there is more to it than that. The person who stole the car and eventually crashed it into the two women who were simply sitting in a park with their backs on a wall was also an employee of the Avis office in downtown Atlanta.
So it may now be clear to you why Avis was named a defendant in the case, the injured plaintiffs were trying to hold the thief’s employer legally responsible for the employee’s actions. This is common in the personal injury world. However, this case goes even further in laying the blame at Avis’ feet. The person who stole the car was not only an employee, but he had a prior felony record for stealing cars and eluding capture by the police. Despite his criminal record, he was hired and allowed to work around a fleet of brand new vehicles. According to the thief himself, this was a dumb decision, an example of the proverbial fox in the hen house.
When the case went to trial, Avis tried to get off the hook for damages done to the two women. They argued that they should be free from liability because the downtown Atlanta branch was operated by CSYG, an independent contractor, not according to Avis, an employee. They claimed that it was CSYG who should’ve done the proper background check and then made the decision not to hire the ex-con. Unfortunately for Avis, none of the juries who heard the case agreed. Instead, Avis was made responsible for roughly half the damages awarded to the two women.
In a recent State Court decision, a judge increased the award even more. In total, Avis is on the line for $38.5 million in damages. This includes half of the $47 million in damages awarded to Smith and another $7 million verdict for a second awarded to Johnson that Avis was found 100% responsible for. In the latest ruling, the judge deemed Avis liable for an extra $8 million that had been apportioned to CSYG, another defeat.
Though Avis has since complained about the verdict and noted their intention to appeal, experts doubt their ultimate ability to succeed in the case. For one thing, evidence submitted at trial indicated that CYSG was not actually independent, and instead was carefully scrutinized and monitored by Avis. Though employers often try and evade legal liability using independent contractors, courts across the country have grown more skeptical of this tactic. Many view it as an attempt to create a legal fiction designed solely to protect large corporations.
For another thing, the idea that corporations should be liable for the actions of employees is a well-established legal principle. Given that companies can only act through their employees, it makes sense that they can in turn be held liable for the actions of those employees. Any other result would mean that employers could never be found at fault for anything as all harm could be traced back to the actions of an individual employee.
If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author:
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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