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Recent NJ decision may expand options for injured motorists

A New Jersey appellate court recently overturned a lower decision that held both a limo driver and an outpatient surgery center liable for two people's serious injuries from a car collision. The decision clarifies who is responsible to compensate those injured in car accidents.

The facts are that an outpatient center hired limousine drivers to transport their patients. While en route, one of these drivers for no apparent lost control of his vehicle and slammed into a parked car. The two people in the parked each suffered a serious injury. One of them had to have both legs partially amputated.

The trial court determined that the negligent driver of the limo bore liability for the accident and would have to pay damages. However, the court went a step further and also imposed liability on the outpatient center, such that the outpatient center's insurance (assuming they had coverage) would also have to cover the accident.

While the appellate court agreed with the trial court on the first point, it disagreed that the center was by necessity liable for the accident as well. The court pointed out that the center would only have to pay compensation if the limo driver was an agent or employee of the center.

The center apparently argued that the limo driver was an independent contractor, meaning that the driver was responsible for his own business and the center acted more like the limo driver's repeat customer as opposed to his employer. Because the court could not say either way with certainty, it deferred the decision on that point to a jury.

The lesson for New Jersey businesses who use transportation services regularly is that they may wind up paying for an accident that one of the drivers that they hired causes. They should insure themselves accordingly. For injured motorists, they should remember that their options for recovery may extend beyond suing the negligent driver, particularly if the driver was transporting somebody or something for pay.

Source: Outpatient Surgery, "Who's responsible for patient transportation accident injuries? " David Bernard, Nov. 14, 2012

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