If your unlucky enough to slip and fall at a business the first person you would think about suing is the business itself. However, businesses today contract out many aspects of cleaning and other maintenance and in doing so also alleviate their responsibility for negligence on their property. The following case out of St. Tammany Parish discusses the concept of who might be at fault for a slip and fall when the cleaning of floors is contracted out to another party.
In 2005, Joy Smith was visiting a friend who was a patient at Northshore Regional Medical Center (Hospital) in Sidell, Louisiana. As Ms. Smith was walking down the hall, she slipped and fell in some water near where the floors had just been buffed. Ms. Smith filed a lawsuit against the Hospital alleging they were negligent in failing to properly warn her of the hazard that caused her fall. The Hospital answered the lawsuit and filed a third party demand, adding as third party defendants Hospital Housekeeping Systems (HHS), and the employee of HHS who had just buffed the floor. The Hospital had a contractual relationship with HHS to provide the Hospital with housekeeping services for the hospital.
The Hospital filed a motion for summary judgment in the lower court seeking to have Ms. Smith’s claim against the hospital dismissed. The Hospital alleged that it was merely the property owner, and it should not be held liable for conditions created by HHS as they contracted with them to clean the floors. See LSA-C.C.P. art. 969. Within the contractual obligations of the Hospital and HHS, HHS was responsible for maintaining the area where Ms. Smith had fell. The lower court agreed, and granted the summary judgment.
Both HHS and Ms. Smith appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal. However, the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.
The First Circuit noted that the Hospital held the burden of proof in showing that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the Hospital’s negligence. To this end, the Hospital produced the contract between the Hospital and HHS. The contract outlined HHS’s cleaning schedule. The contract also clearly stated that only HHS was responsible for their employees in terms of hiring, firing and direction of daily duties.
The First Circuit explained that if an independent contractor relationship exists the principal, (here the Hospital) is typically not liable for the negligent acts of the person they hired who commits negligence in performing the job they hired them to do. See Smith v. Zellerbach, 486 So. 2d 798 – La: Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit 1986. The court then outlined several factors which are looked at in determining whether an independent contractor or employee relationship existed. The heavily focused on factor in the First Circuit’s opinion, was whether the Hospital exercised a high level of control over HHS, which would negate the independent contractor relationship.
Ms. Smith opposed the summary judgment by alleging that factual issues as the the degree of control that the Hospital exerted over HHS existed and therefore the trial court should hear evidence on those issues. Ms. Smith noted specific provisions in the Hospital and HHS contract which demonstrated the Hospital’s control. First, HHS employees were required to adhere to the Hospital’s rules and regulations and comply with the Hospital’s drug screening policy. Second, HHS was required to adhere to certain standards of performance as set by the Hospital. She also submitted evidence as to the Hospital’s officer responsible for supervising the Hospital’s housekeeping department, having daily contact with an HHS manager who had an onsite office at the Hospital.
The First Circuit reviewed the provisions and evidence submitted by Ms. Smith and found that is was not the degree of control necessary to negate an independent contractor relationship and held that the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Hospital was appropriate. Therefore Ms. Smith claims against the Hospital were dismissed but her claims against the contractor remained intact to be set for trial on another day.
This case shows that reality of todays world where many different aspects of a buildings maintenance and cleaning are not controlled by the owners of that building. In such cases who may ultimately be responsible if negligence occurs can be difficult to ascertain. If you suffer an injury at a business make sure you have the best lawyer on your side to help you navigate the right path to those who are responsible.
Written By Berniard Law Firm Blog Article Writer: Zoha Khan
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