Colorado Supreme Court Case Addresses “The McHaffie Rule”

Colorado Supreme Court Case

The 2017 case of Ferrer v. Tesfamariam Okbamicael & Colorado Cab Company L.L.C. made it to the state’s Supreme Court. Plaintiff Jessica Ferrer and a friend were injured when Mr. Okbamicael’s taxi cab hit them while they crossed a Denver street. Okbamicael worked for Colorado Cab (Yellow Cab), who owned the vehicle. Ferrer sued both the driver and Yellow Cab citing the driver’s negligence and that Yellow Cab was vicariously liable based on respondeat superior. In addition, the plaintiff charged that Yellow Cab had liability under the theories of direct negligence, negligent entrustment and for employee hiring and supervising. Initially, Yellow Cab claimed that the driver was an independent contractor. Shortly after, they amended that claim saying that Okbamicael was their employee and was working when the accident occurred, thus accepting liability under respondeat superior.

The McHaffie Rule

Yellow Cab requested a motion for a partial judgment to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims relating to direct negligence—the courts granted it. Case law contains instances where a company accepts vicarious liability, claims of direct negligence are dismissed. This stems from McHaffie v. Bunch (Missouri 1995), where a truck driver injured a child and the parent brought charges against the driver and his company. This established that once an employer assumes respondeat superior liability, the plaintiff is barred from filing other liability theories. The reasoning was based on wanting to avoid redundancy and wasteful claims.

Supreme Court Findings

  • The court felt that the driver was clearly an independent contractor. Initially, the defendant concurred, but later recanted
  • This allowed for the judgment to bar the direct negligence claim since the defendant had conceded vicarious liability, which hindered the plaintiff’s ability to discover certain information
  • Yellow Cab’s admission of vicarious liability is not consistent with the contract in place and they actually specified “for purposes of this case only” that drivers with the same contract as Okbamicael would be considered regular employees
  • The plaintiff is the “master of the complaint”, thus has rights to determine allegations and pursue claims
  • A claimant may seek relief using alternative types; and defendant’s may be all joined into a single action
  • They disagreed that one cause of action can completely disallow another claim; further, because one plaintiff suit may contain several causes of action
  • A significant conflict exists between the McHaffie Rule and Colorado’s principle of comparative fault. Allowing Yellow Cab to eliminate the direct negligence claims “collapses” the claims of the driver’s negligence and allows for a greater likelihood of a 50% split under comparative fault—where the plaintiff recovers nothing.

Instances, where driver negligence causes serious injury, seem to be on the rise. A significant contributor is distracted driving, most commonly among users of mobile devices who are behind the wheel. If you have been victimized in an auto accident, your may have recourse. Contact The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal today to discuss your case at (303) 825-2223.

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