An issue that often arises when an employee harms another during the course of his job is whether the employer can be held vicariously liable for the employee’s act. Indeed, proving vicarious liability is often necessary for assuring that one can acquire full recovery for his injuries, since many employees are “judgment proof, ” meaning financially incapable of paying the opposing party’s judgment. Given the importance of vicarious liability, many plaintiffs attempt to stretch the meaning of employer. For instance, the Fifth District Court of Appeal recently addressed the scope of who could be deemed an “employer” under a local trucking law in its decision in Peninsula Logistics, Inc. v. Erb (PDF-embedded link).
This Erb litigation was born from a collision between a vehicle owned by the plaintiffs and a semi-truck owned by O & L Transport. At the time of the accident, the driver of the truck was transporting cargo for Peninsula in a trailer owned by a different entity. Following the collision, the plaintiffs brought suit against several defendants, including Peninsula. Although the driver was not directly employed by Peninsula, the plaintiffs argued that Peninsula could nonetheless be held liable because Peninsula fell within the definition of an employer under a pertinent trucking regulation. Eventually, the case went to trial, which resulted in a favorable verdict for the plaintiffs. Peninsula brought an appeal, arguing that it could not be considered an employer as a matter of law, and therefore the trial court erred in not granting its motion for a directed verdict.