September 03, 2007

Cab Driver Was Not the Employee of the Cab Company When Fatally Shot While Driving a Leased Taxicab

September 03, 2007

West Cab Co., et al v. Industrial Commission No. 1-06-2566WC

Michael Gray leased a taxicab from West Cab Company on a regular basis.  While in the leased taxicab, he was shot and killed by an armed assailant.  West Cab, Northwest Cab and Northwest Package Delivery, Inc. were managed and owned by the same persons.  On occasion, the drivers were dispatched to handle assignments from all three companies.  The circuit court affirmed the Commission decision.  However, the appellate court found that the Commission decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and reversed.

The Commission had relied upon the Yellow Cab case where the court had outlined the factors which were to be given particular weight in determining the issue of control of the manner in which the work was done:

  1. whether the driver accepted radio calls from the company;
  2. whether the driver had his radio and cab repaired by the company;
  3. whether the vehicles were painted alike with the name of the company and its phone number on the vehicle;
  4. whether the company could refuse the driver a cab;
  5. whether the company has control over work shifts and assignments;
  6. whether the company requires that gasoline be purchased from the company;
  7. whether repair and tow service is supplied by the company;
  8. whether the company has the right to discharge the driver or cancel the lease without cause; and
  9. whether the lease contains a prohibition against subleasing the taxicab.

In reviewing the application of these factors, the court concluded:

In the instant matter, of the nine factors enumerated inYellow Cab, only two were present: the cab was painted with company’s logo and phone number; and the fact that the lease contained a prohibition against sub-leasing.  Here, the lessee was not required to respond to radio dispatches from the company; the lessee did not pay for maintenance of the vehicle; while the car was painted to the lessors specifications, the lessor could not and did not install advertising in the car; the lessor did not have the right to inspect the vehicle; the lessor could not refuse to provide the driver with a cab; the company had no control over work-shifts or assignments; the company did not require lessees to purchase gasoline from the company; there was nothing in the record to establish that the company provided towing and road service; there was no right to discharge a driver or cancel the lease unless such discharge or cancellation was for cause.  (In Yellow Cab, the court found that the ability to discharge or cancelwithout cause was an indicia of control.)

Based upon the evidence, we find that the Commission’s finding of an employee-employer relationship is against the manifest weight of the evidence.  The fact that the cab was painted to the company’s specifications and the limitation on sub-leasing, standing alone against the overwhelming weight of contrary evidence simply cannot support a conclusion reached by the Commission.  We find the opposite conclusion is clearly apparent.  To the extent that our decision in the instant matter may be at odds with the holding in Yellow Cab, we now overrule that holding.

The sole dissenting opinion was filed by Justice Donovan, who felt that the majority had not identified a compelling reason to overrule the Yellow Cab case.  The dissent noted:

The real question for solution is, Does the plaintiff engage merely in the leasing of taxicabs, or does he operate a line of taxicabs as a common carrier of passengers?  When all factors are considered and particularly the contractual relationship of the plaintiff with the passengers carried, I think there can be little doubt that plaintiff is operating the line of taxicabs, and that while he has adopted an ingenious method of fixing the compensation of his drivers and permits the drivers to exercise some discretion over the cab during the period of the driver’s shift, nevertheless, I think there is no discretion vested in the drivers inconsistent with the relation of master and servant.

The dissent then referred to the social importance of finding compensability when it said:

While reviewing the applicable case law on the existence of an employer-employee relationship, I found compelling a line in the Yellow Cab II case, wherein this court noted that “[t]he driving of the taxicabs in the fleet is certainly an integral part of the employer’s business, and there is no other channel in this case through which the costs of claimant’s work-related death can flow.”

In further expressing his surprise as to the Commission reversal on a factual issue, the dissent commented:

In its opinion, the majority writes, “To the extent that our decision in the instant matter may be at odds with the holding in Yellow Cab, we now overrule that holding.”  This court does not generally depart from established case law absent a good cause or compelling reasons.  I am troubled by the majority’s failure to articulate what part or parts of its opinion could be considered “at odds” with the holding in Yellow Cab II, and its failure to provide any cause or reason to support its decision.  I find no basis on which to overrule Yellow Cab II.  I find that the Commission’s finding that the claimant’s decedent was an employee of West Cab Company and Northwest Cab Company is supported by the evidence and is not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Editor’s Note:

The factual situation could justify the court’s decision but the instant case appears to undermine the social arguments cited in the Yellow Cab Company case.

West Cab Co., et al v. Industrial Commission No. 1-06-2566WC, decided August 21, 2007

Frank J. Wiedner, Editor Wiedner & McAuliffe, Ltd One North Franklin, #1900 Chicago, IL 60606 (312) 855-1105