Court Finds Grocery Store Liable for Negligence of Independent Contractor Responsible for Cleaning the Store

As a general rule in New Mexico personal injury cases, while an employer may be held liable for the negligent acts of an employee in some circumstances, companies are not normally responsible for the negligent acts of independent contractors they hire to perform work. However, there are certain exceptions to this, including when the task assigned to the contract involves a non-delegable duty.

A non-delegable duty is one which a party cannot delegate to another party. For example, in a recent premises liability case, a grocery store was held liable for the negligence of an independent contractor who was paid to clean up the store after hours.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was shopping at the defendant grocery store when she slipped on a puddle of soapy water. Evidently, the man responsible for mopping the aisles the night before forgot to clean up the puddle of water.

The grocery store had contracted with a cleaning company to clean the store. That company then hired an independent contractor to perform the actual cleaning. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store, the cleaning company, and the independent contractor. However, prior to trial, the plaintiff settled with the independent contract.

After a jury trial, the store was found to be 5% liable, the plaintiff 20% liable, and the cleaning company not liable at all. The jury determined that the independent contractor was 75% responsible. The plaintiff argued that the grocery store and the cleaning company should be responsible for the contractor’s share because the grocery store had a non-delegable duty to keep the store free from hazards, and both the cleaning company and the contractor assumed that duty.

The court held that the grocery store did indeed have a non-delegable duty to keep the store safe for customers. Thus, while the grocery store was of course permitted to have another company perform the cleaning, it could not delegate the duty to keep the store safe. As a result, the court held that the store was liable for the contractor’s negligence.

The court also determined that the cleaning company was not liable for the negligence of the contractor. The court explained that, absent an exception or an explicit agreement, a company is not liable for the actions of an independent contractor it hired to perform work. Here, the court noted that the plaintiff failed to establish either an exception or prove that the cleaning company agreed to assume the grocery store’s duty.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have decades of experience handling all types of personal injury matters, including New Mexico premises liability cases. To learn more, call 505-889-FINE to schedule your free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain compensation for your injuries.

More Blog Posts:

Court Applies Coming and Going Rule in Recent Car Accident Case Seeking to Hold Employer Liable, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, July 18, 2018.

Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Gas Station Slip-and-Fall Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, July 6, 2018.