If an independent contractor performs work negligently, who is liable? It depends on whether the negligent work involved the performance of a nondelegable duty or not.
This issue was recently addressed by the First District Court of Appeal in Garcia v. Southern Cleaning Service, Inc. Garcia involved a Winn-Dixie employee who allegedly was injured from a slippery floor. Winn-Dixie entered into a contract with Southern Cleaning Service to provide it with floor cleaning, and then Southern Cleaning Service subcontracted the work to Pam Cleaning Inc., an independent contractor. The employee filed a negligence action against Southern Cleaning Service, claiming that it was liable for the acts of its independent contractor, Pam Cleaning.
The issue in Garcia hinged on whether Southern Cleaning Service’s duty contracted to Pam Cleaning was nondelegable, meaning whether the responsibility at issue is so important to the community that an employer should not be allowed to transfer it to a third party. The First District Court of Appeal recognized that a party that hires an independent contractor may be liable for the contractor’s negligence where a nondelegable duty is involved. Such a duty may be imposed by statute, contract, or common law.
The employee argued that it was a nondelegable duty based upon a contract between Winn-Dixie and Southern Cleaning Service, which contained an indemnity provision to which the employee was not a party. Southern Cleaning argued that under the employee’s argument, every time a landowner and a contractor enter into a contract with an indemnity provision, they have made themselves liable to direct claims by people who are not parties to the contract. The First District Court of Appeal agreed with Southern Cleaning Service and affirmed summary judgment on its behalf. The Court held that Southern Cleaning Service’s contract with Winn-Dixie does not create liability to third persons who are not parties to the contract for the negligent acts of an independent contractor.When contracting work to an independent contractor, it is important to consider whether the type of work contracted entails a peculiar risk that would create a nondelegable duty to a non-party to a contract. Rosenthal Law Group is here to assist with all your contractual needs, including drafting indemnity provisions and contracts with independent contractors.