Emanuele Secci was injured after his motorcycle was involved in a crash with the defendant Aram Tonakanian, who was driving a green and white taxi marked with United Independent Taxi Drivers‘ insignia. The jury found that Tonakanian was United’s agent, but not an employee. With that verdict, the trial court granted United’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) under the state’s code of civil procedure.
The appeal of that trial judge’s order resulted in an appeal where the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order and reinstated the jury’s verdict. In doing so, the appeals panel concluded that California law does not preclude consideration of controls required by public regulations in finding an agency relationship.
In this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Secci, the appellate court concluded that the evidence presented at trial was more than sufficient to support a jury finding that Tonakanian, the taxi driver whom the jury found responsible for the crash and Secci’s injuries, that he was United’s agent and thus, United was vicariously liable for Tonakanian’s acts.
In this case, the taxi driver owned his cab, but was part of the association sponsored by the defendant United. In fact, Tonakanian’s contract with United declared that he was an independent contractor.
Drivers for United paid monthly dues that covered advertising and marketing, which was handled by United. Drivers were required to use a uniform credit card processor for its customers. When a fare was paid, United would deduct the credit card processing fee, the driver’s monthly dues and another small charge for accounting. United provided training and a manual of procedures required of all of its drivers. The drivers were required to strictly follow the manual’s dress code and other regulations the company imposed. The drivers were not allowed to discount fares or to charge a flat fare. In addition, drivers could accept or reject any dispatch in the zone in which they were traveling.
Because of an error in a jury instruction, the first of the two jury trials was a mistrial. In the second trial and with the appropriate jury instruction on agency, employment and independent contractor relations, Secci prevailed. When United’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, this appeal was taken and the order of the trial judge was reversed reinstating the jury’s verdict.
In conclusion the appellate court concluded that there was no public regulation of the taxi cab industry that would shield United from vicarious liability when it hires independent contractors rather than employees. Because it appeared that the United driver was at least an agent of the company, if not an employee, the principal of that agent, United, could be held liable for a driver’s negligence and damages to another person.
Emanuele Secci v. United Independent Taxi Drivers, Inc., B270082 (In the Court of Appeal of the State of California; Feb. 15, 2017)
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling car accident cases, taxicab crash cases, truck accidents, and motorcycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Tinley Park, Richton Park, Inverness, Arlington Heights, Lisle, Justice, Worth, Orland Park, Evergreen Park, Gurnee, Glencoe, Glenview, Naperville, Kenilworth, Elmhurst and Schiller Park, Ill.
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