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Company held responsible for rep’s accident – $700,000 Verdict

This was a personal injury action arising from a motor vehicle collision that occurred in April 2015 in Loudoun County. At the time of the collision, a marketing representative from Polyface Inc. was on a two-day business trip from Central Virginia to multiple businesses in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area for the purpose of delivering meat, collecting payments and engaging in marketing on behalf of Polyface Inc.. While in Northern Virginia, the Polyface representative drove a delivery van at approximately 40 mph through two posted stop signs at a four-way stop intersection directly into plaintiff’s vehicle, causing the plaintiff, a Fairfax County Public Schools teacher, to sustain serious bodily injuries. At the time of the collision, the tortfeasor had some Polyface tools of the trade as well as checks made payable to Polyface, Inc. in her possession which she acknowledged she would have to return to Polyface.

Plaintiff brought this action alleging simple negligence against the marketing representative and vicarious liability against Polyface Inc. under the alternative doctrines of respondeat superior and joint venture liability. Among the issues before the court was a fact-intensive analysis of whether the delivery driver was an employee/agent/servant of Polyface Inc. or otherwise engaged in a business enterprise/joint venture with Polyface at the time of the collision. Although the driver’s name and likeness were prominently dispalyed on the Polyface website as a member of the “Polyface Team” and holding the “position” of “D.C. marketing representative”, Polyface claimed its representative was an independent contractor and it should thus bear no liability for the collision.

During trial, plaintiff elicited considerable evidence that Polyface effectively controlled many of the “means and methods” by which the representative did her job. Through tax returns obtained through discovery, plaintiff was able to establish that the Polyface representative’s net business income for 2014 and 2015 came entirely (100 percent) from or through Polyface. Finally, plaintiff introduced evidence that Polyface and its marketing representative had a profit and loss sharing arrangement related to the work the representative did in the NOVA marketing area.

Early on in the case, the driver’s carrier proffered her $50,000 policy limits. The same carrier, also plaintiff’s UIM carrier, suggested a willingness to proffer its full UIM coverage ($50,000) if a settlement could be reached expeditiously. After months of attempts to negotiate a settlement with Polyface, plaintiff made a final demand of Polyface, Inc. to pay $40,000.00 on top of the $100,000 tentatively on the table. Polyface rejected that demand, making no counter until approximately three weeks before trial, at which time Polyface offered $15,000.00. Trial ensued.

[18-T-017]

Type of action: Personal Injury

Injuries alleged: Three fractures to the pelvis which healed without surgery with immobilization and extensive physical therapy; a pulmonary contusion; and minor lacerations and bruising to plaintiff’s legs and ankle. There was medical testimony that the pelvic injury was permanent and painful in nature.

Name of case: Catherine Quinn v. Polyface, Inc. et al.

Court: Loudoun Circuit Court

Case no.: CL-00104077-00

Tried before: Jury

Name of judge or mediator: Judge Lorraine Nordlund

Date resolved: Feb. 9, 2018

Special damages: Medical expenses: $54,976.01; Lost wages: 36,146.51

Demand: $40,000 from Polyface Inc. on top of $100,000 tendered in primary and UIM coverage proffered

Offer: $15,000.00 from Polyface Inc.

Verdict or settlement: Verdict

Amount: $700,000

Attorneys for plaintiff: Andrew Simpson, Vienna; Mikhael Charnoff, Arlington

Attorneys for defendant: William R. Slicer and Michael Dunham

Plaintiff’s experts: Orthopedic surgeon, John A. Bruno, M.D., and physical therapist, Jessica M. Stewart, P.T.

Insurance carrier: Farm Family Insurance Company (Albany, NY) for Polyface, Inc.