If your organization contracts out security services, the Texas Supreme Court has just handed you a substantial victory that makes it less likely you'll be liable if your independent-contractor security guard injures someone.
Since 1976, lower courts in Texas have ruled that when a business owes a duty to customers—such as the duty to not harm customers who patronize the business—that duty is of a "personal character," and it can't be contracted away through the use of an independent-contractor arrangement.
Until now, Texas companies were responsible for the actions of anyone hired to provide security, regardless of whether security providers were employees or independent contractors.
Case in point: The owners of Club Rodeo, an Austin nightclub, hired David West as an independent contractor to provide security. When an intoxicated person tried to enter the club, West tried to escort him to his car.
A struggle ensued, and West slammed the man against a wall, rendering him unconscious. The customer sued West and Club Rodeo. A jury found the club liable on the theory it had a personal duty not to injure patrons and was liable for West's acts even if he was an independent contractor who wasn't closely controlled by the club.
But the Texas Supreme Court reversed the ruling and dismissed the case against the club owners. (Fifth Club, Inc. v. Ramirez, No 04-0550, Texas Supreme Court, 2006)
- Courts weigh in: How to handle meal breaks not taken
- Another reason to enforce violence policy: To avoid workers' compensation liability
- After hours: How to regulate employees' off-duty behavior
- Does a natural disaster make former employees eligible for unemployment benefits?
- Congress OKs small biz tax breaks