A family in Boca Raton, Florida, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit after a Best Buy delivery driver allegedly murdered a 75-year-old woman while delivering appliances to her house. 

The family filed suit against two delivery drivers, Best Buy, the delivery company JB Hunt, and a separate delivery company XM Delivery. Best Buy’s defense will almost certainly be that JB Hunt was an independent contractor, XM Delivery was an independent contractor hired by JB Hunt, and therefore Best Buy is twice removed from liability for the incident. 

Is that true? Can a company be held responsible for the actions of an independent contractor? 

Can the Family Sue After Best Buy Delivery Driver Murders a 75-Year-Old Customer?

For most people, if they purchase appliances from Best Buy and the appliances are delivered to their home, their understanding is that Best Buy is delivering their appliances. 

Yet, Best Buy hired an independent delivery company who then hired a second independent delivery company to deliver the appliances, enter the Best Buy customer’s home, and install the appliances in the home. 

Does that absolve Best Buy of any responsibility for the drivers’ actions? 

What did the Best Buy Delivery Driver Do? 

According to reports, two delivery drivers showed up to install an elderly woman’s washer and dryer. After installing the appliances, one delivery person went outside while the other stayed inside to answer any questions the customer had about the washer and dryer. 

That’s when he heard screams coming from inside the house:

“I heard a lot of screaming and I went inside,” he said. “The lady is on the floor.”

His fellow delivery person, Jorge Dupre Lachazo, 21, is accused of beating 75-year-old Evelyn Udell with a mallet, dousing her with a toxic chemical, and setting her on fire inside her Boca Raton home.

Police said the woman died from her injuries Tuesday afternoon.

He reportedly knocked her out with the hammer and then went to the woman’s garage, returning with chemicals that he poured over her before lighting her on fire:

Detectives said Lachazo told them he was inside the victim’s home showing her how to use her appliances. He admitted to hitting her on the head with the mallet and knocking her out.

Police said Lachazo claimed he then got a chemical from the garage.

“[Lachazo] made a physical motion with his hands indicating that he doused [the victim] and room with the chemical agent. He then made a motion with his hands that the chemical spontaneously combusted,” the arrest report said.

Police said “Lachazo admitted to recently using cocaine, as well as marijuana through a vape.” However, the motive of the crime remains unclear.

According to his arrest report, Lachazo’s fingerprints were found on the can of Acetone.

Police said the victim suffered multiple skull and facial fractures, as well as severe brain bleeding and second and third-degree burns over the majority of her body.

Lachazo is facing charges of first-degree murder, first-degree arson and armed burglary with battery.

The Best Buy delivery driver is now being held without bond and will face trial for murder – but can Best Buy be held responsible for what he did? 

Is Best Buy Responsible for their Delivery Drivers?

Best Buy is liable for a Best Buy delivery driver’s actions during the performance of their job duties. But was the driver a Best Buy delivery driver? 

Respondeat Superior

The Best Buy delivery driver is responsible for his actions. His employer is also liable for the driver’s actions during the course and scope of his employment under the doctrine of respondeat superior

Independent Contractors

As it turns out, the Best Buy delivery driver was not a Best Buy employee – they contracted with JB Hunt to complete their deliveries, then JB Hunt contracted with another company, XM Delivery in Miami, to complete the delivery in this case:

Best Buy contracts with delivery company JB Hunt, which in turn sub-contracted with XM Delivery of Miami. A Best Buy spokesperson confirmed to WPTV that the company still has a relationship with JB Hunt but indefinitely suspended its relationship with XM Delivery.

JB Hunt was quick to point out that it was not their employee:

“We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the woman whose life was senselessly lost following an August 19 delivery in Boca Raton,” JB Hunt said in a statement. “The delivery service was provided by an independent, local company contracted through J.B. Hunt and did not involve any J.B. Hunt employees. We are working diligently to understand how this tragedy occurred and have suspended our relationship with this company at this time.”

So, who is liable for the wrongful death? 

The delivery driver, who probably does not have the money or assets to compensate the victim’s family, is liable for his own actions. 

XM Delivery is most likely liable for the delivery driver’s actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. 

Are JB Hunt and Best Buy liable for the delivery driver’s actions? The customer did not know who the delivery driver worked for – as far as she knew, it was a Best Buy delivery driver…

According to the lawsuit, “Best buy stores did nothing to investigate, supervise, or oversee the personnel used to perform these services on their behalf. Worse, it did nothing to advise, inform, or warn Mrs. Udell that the delivery and installation services had been delegated to a third-party.”

Does it matter that the customer believes Best Buy is sending their own employees, presumably carefully vetted by the company, to deliver their appliances?

Although the general rule is that an employer is not liable for the actions of an independent contractor, there are many exceptions to that rule. Although businesses often hire independent contractors to get around the respondeat superior rule and limit their liability, you can’t assume that an independent contractor will be treated as an independent contractor by the courts or that the business will not be held liable. 

SC Personal Injury Lawyers in Myrtle Beach

If you or a family member are hurt because of a company’s negligent hiring practices, you may have a lawsuit against the company, even if they claim their employee was an independent contractor. 

Your Myrtle Beach personal injury attorney at Coastal Law will help you to determine who was responsible for the accident, gather the evidence to prove it, and file suit against the responsible parties. Call us now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free initial consultation.

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