The Fourth Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined plaintiff’s causes of action based upon res ipsa loquitur and vicarious liability for a contractor who constructed the deck should have survived a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff rented a cottage from defendant. While plaintiff was on the deck, it collapsed:
In New York, in order to establish liability under that doctrine, the plaintiff must establish that the event was: “(1) of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) . . . caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; [and] (3) . . . not . . . due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff”…. . “The exclusive control requirement . . . is that the evidence must afford a rational basis for concluding that the cause of the accident was probably such that the defendant would be responsible for any negligence connected with it” … .. “The purpose is simply to eliminate within reason all explanations for the injury other than the defendant’s negligence” … . …
“Generally, a party who retains an independent contractor, as distinguished from a mere employee or servant, is not liable for the independent contractor’s negligent acts” … . The “most commonly accepted rationale” for that rule is that “one who employs an independent contractor has no right to control the manner in which the work is to be done and, thus, the risk of loss is more sensibly placed on the contractor” … . There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule. “A party may be vicariously liable for the negligence of an independent contractor in performing [n]on-delegable duties . . . arising out of some relation toward the public or the particular plaintiff” … . To determine whether a nondelegable duty exists, the court must conduct “a sui generis inquiry” because the court’s conclusion rests on policy considerations … . Although “[t]here are no clearly defined criteria for identifying duties that are nondelegable[,] . . . [t]he most often cited formulation is that a duty will be deemed nondelegable when the responsibility is so important to the community that the employer should not be permitted to transfer it to another” … . Here, we conclude that defendant owes a nondelegable duty to the public to maintain the premises in reasonably safe condition … , and thus that defendant failed to establish as matter of law that she may not be held liable for the actions of her independent contractor … . McGirr v Shifflet, 2022 NY Slip Op 04831, Fourth Dept 8-4-22
Practice Point: Here plaintiff was injured when the deck of the cottage rented from defendant collapsed. Plaintiff’s causes of action based on res ipsa loguitur and vicarious liability for the contractor who built the deck should not have been dismissed. There was a question of fact whether defendant had a nondelegable duty to the public to keep the premises safe, an exception to the general rule that a property owner is not vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of an independent contractor.