Cook County Wrongful Death Case Highlights Issues of Logo-Liability Under the Interstate Commerce Act

An Illinois Appellate Court decision upheld a Cook County wrongful death verdict in U.S. Bank v. Lindsey, No. 1-07-2606 (2009). By doing so the Appellate Court discussed liability, specifically the issue of “logo liability” under the Interstate Commerce Act.

In Lindsey, it was alleged that the plaintiff, Willie Taylor, died after a fellow employee backed a truck into Taylor. The case becomes complicated because the truck was rented by their employer, Open Kitchens, from Carmichael Leasing Company.

Even though both workers were employed by Open Kitchens and were operating within the confines of their employment, both the employee who caused Taylor’s death and Open Kitchens are insulated from common law liability under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. So while Taylor would have been able to bring an Illinois workers’ compensation claim against his employer if he had simply been injured on the job, the fact that he died barred his estate from filing an Illinois workers’ compensation claim.

Instead the estate would need to bring an Illinois wrongful death claim that proved that a given entity was responsible for Taylor’s death – and under Illinois law that entity could not be the employer or fellow employee. Therefore the administrator of Taylor’s estate brought an action against the leasing company asserting its negligence as the owner of the truck based on “logo liability” under the Interstate Commerce Act.

An Illinois jury trial returned a verdict of $1.5 million against Carmichael, the leasing company, which the company promptly appealed on claims that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act also provided immunity to the leasing company for any liability as a result of negligence of a co-employee.

In addition, Carmichael argued that they were also immune from liability under an Illinois statute that qualified the co-employee as the leasing company’s “statutory employee” under federal law. Lastly, it was argued that the logo-liability doctrine did not apply because the decedent, Taylor, was not a member of the traveling public and was therefore not entitled to protection.

However, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the judgment against Carmichael, indicating that it was not immune from liability because the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does not offer immunity to third parties who are vicariously liable for an otherwise immune co-employee’s negligent conduct.

Furthermore, the leasing company did not pay premiums for workers’ compensation coverage for either the co-worker or the decedent. It did not have an employer-employee relationship with either individual or any relationship with Open Kitchens other than the lease agreement that was in effect at the time of the accident.

Also, the court held that the employer relationship referred to between the co-employee and the leasing company via the logo-liability is a legal fiction and neither had an affect on nor is it affected by the Workers’ Compensation Act but rather simply a designation by virtue of the Interstate Commerce Act for purposes of protecting the public.

In regards to Carmichael’s claims that logo-liability did not apply in this case, the court held that the decedent was a member of the public intended to be protected under the Interstate Commerce Act. The over arching purpose of the Interstate Commerce Act is to protect members of the public injured by trucks operated on public highways by dispensing with issues of agency and scope of employment, and instead fixing and placing full responsibility on the carrier for the negligent operations of its vehicles.

Illinois has a well established line of cases holding that interstate carriers operating pursuant to a grant of authority evidenced by an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) license number and a company name displayed on a truck are vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their drivers. The Appellate Court rightly decided that this case fit the criteria for logo-liability and that the leasing company was liable for the actions of the rental driver.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois wrongful death cases for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Evanston, Lisle, Oak Park, and Arlington Heights.

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