Is a Company Responsible for Wrongful Death Due to an Employee or Contractor’s Negligence?

It’s a complex question, to be sure. Your spouse is tragically killed in a workplace accident. An investigation reveals that the negligence of one of the company’s employees or an independent contractor was the primary cause of the accident. Who is now liable? Can the company still be held responsible for a wrongful death claim if an employee or contractor caused your loved one’s death?

The good news is there are answers, and someone should be held to account—although it may require the help of a seasoned attorney to figure out whom to hold responsible and to what extent. Let’s take a quick look at what California law says about this question.

Is a Company Liable for an Employee’s Actions?

Under California’s Negligent Hiring, Supervision and Retention Law, a company can be held legally liable for the actions of an employee if the company knew or should have known that employee posed a risk. The definition of “employee” also extends to independent contractors if those contractors are directly under the company’s control. (More on this in a moment.) Thus, if the employee caused your spouse’s death, your attorney’s primary goal in proving a wrongful death claim against the company is to demonstrate that the company should have known the employee was a risk and failed to remove that employee.

What If the Responsible Party is an Independent Contractor?

The law regarding independent contractors is slightly more complicated. In the general sense, companies are not liable for the actions of their independent contractors. However, there are exceptions to this rule because a company still has a duty to make sure that an independent contractor under its control represents no risk to other employees or the company itself. We refer to this as the Vicarious Liability Control principle, which says a company is vicariously responsible for the acts of independent contractors under its direct control (thus, still legally considered “employees”). A recent court case, Secci v. United Independent Taxi Drivers, Inc., underscored the idea that a company required by the government to exert control over its contractors (in this case, a taxi company hiring independent drivers) is liable for the actions of those drivers.

In the end, there are some legal hurdles to navigate when trying to determine whether to hold the company responsible for your loved one’s wrongful death or to hold an individual employee or contractor responsible. Your best bet for recovering a fair settlement is to hire an experienced wrongful death attorney who can evaluate the circumstances and argue your case effectively in court, if necessary. At Accident Defenders, we understand the intricacies of this area of the law, and we can help you hold the right people to account for the wrongful death of your spouse. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 323-818-HURT or fill out our online contact form.


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