In a recent opinion, a state appellate court discussed whether a casino could be held liable for injuries sustained by an independent contractor when while crossing a small gap between the casino’s main building and a stationary gaming boat. The case presents an interesting issue that frequently arises in New Mexico personal injury cases involving the negligence of a party that was acting as an independent contractor.
The General Rule Involving Independent Contractors
In general, companies that retain the services of an independent contractor are not liable for the contractor’s actions. However, there are exceptions when a company can be liable either to a contractor or for a contractor’s negligent actions.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was employed as a maintenance worker for a company that was contracted to clean the ducts for the defendant casino. The ducts were accessible from the roof of the casino. However, the casino consisted of a main building as well as a floating casino vessel where patrons could gamble. These two structures were not connected in any way, and they were separated by a gap of two or three feet.
The casino explained that maintenance workers were to access the boat’s roof via a ladder that connected the two roofs. The plaintiff’s employer asked that a more stable platform be constructed, but the casino rejected the proposal, claiming that it was too expensive. When the plaintiff started working at the casino, there was a wooden ladder that was in poor condition. However, that ladder was replaced by a sturdier fiberglass ladder. Both the plaintiff’s employer as well as the casino denied placing the fiberglass ladder.
One day as the plaintiff was attempting to access the boat’s roof, the fiberglass ladder gave out. It was later determined that the ladder was defective. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the casino, and the casino filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that it was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because he was an independent contractor.
The court acknowledged that the general rule provides that a company is not liable for the acts of an independent contractor, but then went on to explain that there are several exceptions. One exception is when the company retains “operational control” over the contractor’s duties. The court noted that operational control is more than merely assigning a task to be completed by the contractors, but requires a showing that the company maintained “step-by-step” control over how the work was completed.
Here, the court held that the plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to establish that the casino may have maintained operational control over the contractor’s work. The court was persuaded by the facts that the casino specified only a single point of access to the boat’s roof and provided the manner in which contractors were to access the roof. The court also noted that when presented with an alternate plan, the casino rejected the proposal and insisted workers use the ladder to access the roof.
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 injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have extensive experience representing those who have been injured in all types of New Mexico personal injury accidents, including slip-and-fall accidents. To learn more about how the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm can help you with your case, call 505-889-FINE to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Government Immunity in New Mexico Car Accident Cases, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 17, 2018.
New Mexico Failure-to-Warn Product Liability Claims, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 6, 2018.