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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monarrez v. Auto Club: Court of Appeal Reverses Finding that AAA Driver Was Independent Contractor

I recently attended an excellent program put on by Tony Oncidi and Andrew Friedman. They pointed out a case that I failed to note when it came down: Monarrez v. Automobile Club of Southern California (12/12/12) --- Cal.App.4th ---.

Monarrez is an old-fashioned third party liability case, not an employment case, but it will be of interest to those handling independent contractor issues. Monarrez suffered injuries while a AAA tow truck driver was loading Monarrez's car onto the tow truck. Monarrez sued the tow truck driver, the driver's admitted employer ("Hirad"), and AAA, alleging that the driver was an agent or employee of AAA.

The trial court granted summary judgment for AAA, finding that the parties' agreement defined Hirad as an independent contractor, AAA "had no control of the manner or means by which [Hirad] performed its emergency roadside service," and AAA's Training Manual merely provided "guidelines."

The Court of Appeal reversed. It disregarded the independent contractor agreement and focused instead on the parties' conduct. Slip op. at 9. Interestingly, the Court relied on employment law cases like S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341, and Estrada v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 1. I would have thought that the Court would apply the common law test found in the older third party liability cases, rather than the expanded test found in cases like Borello

In any case, the Court found that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. It found that AAA exercised "tight control" through its guidelines, "the work performed by the technicians is Auto Club's regular business," and a trier of fact could find that the driver was a AAA employee or agent. Slip op. at 13-17. 

The opinion is available here.

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