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Admitting agency no longer bars direct negligence theories in Illinois.

ABSTRACT: In McQueen v. Green, the Illinois Supreme Court holds that admitting vicarious liability does not bar theories of negligent retention, hiring, training and direction against the principal.

An effective tool in attempting to limit recovery and the scope of discovery in Illinois may be gone. In McQueen v. Green, a tractor-trailer accident case involving personal injuries, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled Illinois’ application of Missouri’s “McHaffie Rule”  (McHaffie v Bunch, 891 S.W.2d 822 (Mo. banc 1995)) which bars theories of “direct” negligence against a principal if the principal admits it is vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of its agent.  The rationale of the Missouri Supreme Court in McHaffie is that once vicarious liability is admitted, additional liability theories are extraneous.   The practical effect of this rule is that it limits the scope of relevant evidence.   It also eliminates the potential of duplicative awards of damages, that is, a jury awarding damages for a theory based on negligent operation of a truck and a theory based upon a principal’s failure to train for which damages are indivisible.

Unfortunately, the McQueen opinion will probably ensure most lawsuits arising out of tractor-trailer accidents will include not only vicarious liability theories against motor carriers, but also claims of negligent hiring, retention and entrustment, even though the carriers fully complied with FMCSA regulations.