Robert Gordon argues that Felix Urbina was an agent of his employer Velocity Express when Urbina's delivery vehicle hit Rolando De La Cruz, Gordon's client. Jurors ultimately found Urbina and Velocity Express liable for the accident, which injured De La CRuz's neck and back.
West Palm Beach, FL—A jury last week found a delivery company liable for a car accident involving one of its drivers that left another motorist with back and neck injuries. De La Cruz v. Urbina, 2013 CA 000528.
In the first trial in bifurcated proceedings, jurors found delivery driver Felix Urbina was an agent of Velocity Express LLC, when Urbina’s delivery vehicle turned left into the path of Rolando De La Cruz’s pickup truck and the two vehicles collided. The jury found Urbina negligent in the accident and assessed no fault to De La Cruz.
De La Cruz’s attorney, Gordon & Doner’s Robert Gordon, said his client suffered back and neck injuries from the 2012 collision, has undergone two surgeries already, and anticipated needing more medical treatment in the future. Last week’s trial focused only on liability. Trial on damages is scheduled for August, according to Gordon.
The three-day trial focused on whether Urbina, a delivery driver for Velocity Express LLC since 2008, was an employee/agent of the company, thus rendering the company liable for his negligence, or an independent contractor whose negligence could not be attributed to Velocity.
The trial turned on both the language in Urbina’s employment agreement with Velocity, which delivers Avon and Amway products, and the control the company had over the means and method of Urbina’s work. During closing arguments last Wednesday, Brian Keif, representing the defendants, reminded jurors that his clients’ employment contract specified that Urbina was an independent contractor and that Urbina willingly agreed to the arrangement. “This is not a business model that Velocity invented to somehow evade or avoid any responsibility [for Urbina’s actions],” Keif said.
Keif also argued that Urbina used his own vehicle to make deliveries and that he controlled delivery routes, orders and times once he received the delivery assignments for the day. “The company doesn’t control any of the methods of how he delivers (the products),” Keif said. “[Velocity has] given the product, OK, deliver it. There’s no control from that point on.”
However, Gordon contended that, despite the employment agreement’s language, Urbina was an agent of the company because he was subject to its daily control. Gordon reminded jurors of evidence that Urbina was required to wear the company’s uniform, use the company’s signage on his vehicle, appear at mandated times and deliver the products Velocity assigned him. “He has no right to turn down these jobs,” Gordon said. “They would fire him in a red hot second if he did that.”
The jury’s finding that De La Cruz was not at all responsible for the collision rejected the defense’s contention that De la Cruz was driving dangerously when the accident occurred. In closings, Keif acknowledged accident reconstruction evidence that determined De La Cruz was likely driving between 40 and 45 miles per hour, within the road’s 45 mph speed limit, just before the accident. However, Keif said De La Cruz should have slowed his vehicle as he approached the intersection where the collision occurred. “If he had slowed down, there would have been no accident whatsoever,” Keif said.
Gordon argued that the unrebutted testimony established De La Cruz wasn’t responsible for the accident. “He’s driving in his lane, he’s got the right of way, he’s under the speed limit, that’s all there is to it,” Gordon said. “[The defense is] just trying to get you to compromise your verdict in some way and put something on Mr. De La Cruz,” Gordon continued. “Don’t do it.”
Rolando DeLaCruz is represented by Gordon and Doner's Robert Gordon. Felix Urbina is represented by Brian Keif, of The Law Offices of Brian S. Keif, P.A.
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