Good news: The Texas Supreme Court has refused to create new liability for organizations that do work through independent contractors. The case points out how important it is to make sure independent contractors stay that way.
Recent case: Central Ready Mix Concrete Company contracted with a former employee to periodically clean out its cement mixer trucks. Cement cakes on the inside of the drums and must be jackhammered out. Because the process is dangerous, Central provided the independent contractor, Eugene Taylor, with detailed instructions.
Unfortunately for one of Taylor’s employees, Taylor ignored the instructions. The result was that while one of Taylor’s employees was inside a drum, someone turned it on, crushing the employee’s pelvis.
The employee sued Taylor and Central Ready Mix for negligence. (Taylor carried no workers’ compensation insurance.) A jury awarded $290,700 in damages and assigned 70% of the fault to Taylor, 20% to Central Ready Mix and 10% to the employee. Central Ready Mix asked to be dropped from the lawsuit, and the judge agreed, concluding that the company had no duty to protect an independent contractor’s employees. The employee appealed and the Texas Court of Appeals reversed.
But Central Ready Mix appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which sided with the company. It concluded there was no liability on Central Ready Mix’s part. The court looked at how little control the company had over the entire cleaning process and how much control Taylor had. Because Taylor was a true independent contractor, he was liable for the injuries. (Central Ready Mix Concrete Company v. Islas, No. 05-0940, Supreme Court of Texas, 2007)
Final note: Not sure if the contract you are signing with an independent contractor does what you intend? It’s probably a good idea to have it reviewed by counsel. After all, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of a negligence lawsuit by your independent contractor’s employee. As a rule of thumb, the more control you try to exercise over an independent contractor, the more likely a court will consider him your actual employee.
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