The aftermath of a motor vehicle accident can be legally complex. Often times, a person other than the driver to the striking vehicle, may be additionally responsible for the damages caused by a motor vehicle collision. Under Illinois law, two common scenarios in which a person or entity may be found legally responsible for damages caused by a negligent driver arise in (1) the parent-child relationship, and (2) the employer-employee relationship. Whether a parent or an employer is legally responsible for the at-fault driver will a careful analysis of the facts surrounding the accident and the relationships of the parties.
If a child gets into an accident while driving his or her parents' car, the injured plaintiff may be able to sue the parents in certain, but not all, situations. Parents are not liable for the injuries caused by their children merely because their child causes an accident. In Illinois, parents may be held liable under an "agency" theory for their child's negligent driving if the child was engaged in running an errand for or doing the parents' business at the time of the accident. Stellmach v. Olson, 242 Ill.App.3d 61, 64 (2nd Dist. 1993). However, the Stellmach Court explained that a parent is not liable for damages caused by a child who drove the parent's car for the child's own purposes, even if the parent consented to that use. Stellmach, 242 Ill.App.3d at 65. If, instead, the child was using the car to run a family errand, then the parent will be liable. Stellmach, 242 Ill.App.3d at 64. The question of whether an action is a family errand will be a question of fact for the jury to consider during the trial. Id.
An employer may be liable for the damages caused by the negligent acts of its employees. An employee will be liable for its employees negligent acts if (1) an employer-employee relationship existed at the time of the accident and (2) the employee was acting with the scope of employment when the negligent act occurred. Pyne v. Witmer, 129 Ill.2d 351, 359 (1989). An individual will not be held to be an employee if he or she was hired as an independent contractor. The facts of each individual case are important. In determining whether a person is an employee, a court will consider the following facts: "the right to control the manner in which the work is done, the method of payment, the right to discharge, the skill required in the work to be done, and who provides the tools materials, or equipment." Davila v. Yellow Cab Co., 333 Ill.App.3d 592, 596 (1st Dist. 2002).
In determining whether the acts occurred within the scope of employment, the burden is on the plaintiff to show "the contemporaneous relationship between tortious act and scope of employment." Pyne, 129 Ill.2d at 360. To reach a determination whether an employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment, the Court will analyze whether the work is of the kind an employee usually performs, if the work occurs substantially within the authorize time and space limits, and if it is done with a purpose of serving the employer. Id. Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction - Civil No. 50.06 (2006) defines scope of employment as being when an employee is "engaged in the transaction of business which has been assigned to him by his principal, or if he is doing anything which may reasonably be said to have been contemplated as a part of his employment."
Maximizing Available Insurance Coverage is the Key
It may be important to identify additional potential defendants when a car driven in an accident has inadequate insurance to cover the damages sustained by the injured plaintiff. A separate policy--especially a commercial or "non-owned auto" policy will be valuable in seeking redress in a significant injury or wrongful death case.
In order to maximize your recovery after your motor vehicle accident, you should consult a lawyer who understands these important agency issues. If you or your loved one has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you should immediately contact a knowledgeable attorney.