If someone is injured in an auto accident in Maryland, there may be more than one defendant responsible. This often is the case where a commercial vehicle is involved. The vehicle may be owned by one company, and driven by a driver employed by another company, which occurs often in our world of contractors and subcontractors.
What duty does a company have to ensure it properly hires an employee who they are going to put behind the wheel of a multi-ton commercial vehicle? And to what extent can the company be held liable for negligently hiring an employee?
Accident Leads to Negligent Hiring Lawsuit
A recent Maryland case discussed the theory of negligent hiring. In Asphalt & Concrete Services Inc. v. Perry, an individual was struck by a truck that was driven by an employee of a separate company (the “driving company”). The injured plaintiff asserted that the company that owned the truck had negligently hired the driving company.
A major theory of the case was that the driving company and its driver had no insurance. The plaintiff argued that hiring a company with no insurance is indicative of negligent hiring. The trial court agreed, allowed evidence of the lack of insurance into the trial, and a large jury verdict for the injured plaintiff was entered.
Negligent Hiring in Maryland
In Maryland, the elements of negligent hiring require demonstration:
1. Of an employee-employer relationship;
2. Of the employee’s incompetence;
3. Of the employer’s actual or constructive knowledge of the incompetence;
4. That the employee’s act or omission caused the injuries; and
5. That the negligent hiring caused the injuries.
The Maryland Appellate court noted that in this case, the driver’s lack of insurance was not because of a bad driving record, which may be evidence that the employer should have known not to use the driving company. Rather, it was simply due to non-payment.
Maryland law has long held that the financial status of a contractor is not evidence of incompetence such that an employer can be responsible for negligently hiring them. All that really matters is whether the company or contractor had something in their history to indicate actual incompetence in the performance of the job.
Because the driving company was transporting materials on public highways, which requires insurance, and insurance is presumably to protect the public, the court felt that the lack of insurance was evidence of performance.
Problem Arises With Causation
The problem came with causation, however. Was the failure to carry insurance a cause of the accident? This question usually rests on foreseeability. If a negligent party’s actions could foreseeable injure someone, then there is causation, and thus liability.
It would seem that even a common sense analysis would say no, and the court agreed. The court said that it was the poor and careless driving that caused the accident, and there is nothing to suggest that such driving was because there was no insurance.
Finding that there was no negligent hiring, evidence relating to it should not have been admitted. Thus, the appellate court reversed the jury award for the injured plaintiff.
If you’ve suffered an injury of any severity in Maryland, and you think it may be due to the negligence of another, make sure your attorney understands all the available legal theories of recovery. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.