Company could be liable for fatal accident caused by its business agent

All negligent parties responsible for the wrongful death of an innocent victim should be held liable for their actions. In a motor vehicle accident, however, the fault may extend even beyond the specific driver who caused the fatal accident.

The California Court of Appeal case of Diaz v. Pavestone Company, LLC, shows how another company-who is not even the direct employer of the driver at fault-could still possibly be found liable for an accident.

A fatal accident en route to a football game

The victim was a passenger who was killed in a motor vehicle accident. The vehicle had stopped to make a left turn onto State Route 152 in Merced County when it was rear-ended by a pickup truck. The victim's parents and child brought a wrongful death lawsuit against both the driver of the pickup and the manufacturing company which owned the pickup truck and did a lot of business with the driver.

The driver had been on his way to an Oakland Raiders football game. The manufacturing company had told the driver to attend the game and bring one of his best customers along, to further their business relationship. The company had purchased the tickets and a representative of the company would be present to sit with them at the game and purchase food and drinks.

The victim's family argued that the company should be liable for the wrongful death. The company challenged this allegation, saying the victim's family had not stated facts sufficient to establish that the everyday business relationship between the driver and the company amounted to an "agency" relationship, such that the company should be liable. Unfortunately, the court found in favor of the company. The victim's family appealed this decision to the California Court of Appeal.

Was the driver the company's agent?

The California Court of Appeal noted that the victim's family had alleged in their pleadings that the driver was acting as an agent of and at the request of the company at the time the fatal accident occurred. This allegation, standing alone, was sufficient to plead the existence of an agency relationship-that is, the allegation was enough to avoid the early dismissal that had occurred in the lower court.

In other portions of the pleading documents, the victim's family had alleged that the company had "requested" the driver attend the game, whereas to establish an agency relationship, words such as "ordering" or "directing" would have been more on point. However, the court concluded that the simple use of the word "requested" did not contradict the existence of an agency relationship, since it was not uncommon for a company to "request" an agent take certain actions within the scope of an agency relationship.

Therefore, the company might still be liable for the fatal motor vehicle accident. The lower court's decision against the victim's family was reversed and the family would be able to proceed with their case.

Seeking compensation for your loss

The loss of a loved one due to the negligence of someone else is devastating. And, unfortunately, a lawsuit can be complex. If you have suffered a loss, seek an attorney experienced in wrongful death cases who will help you through the process and work to ensure you receive the full compensation you deserve.