Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Appiah v. Hall (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed: October 27, 2010

Opinion by Judge Mary Ellen Barbera

Held: To hold an employer liable for the torts of an independent contractor the employer must exercise control over the work that leads to the injury.

Facts: Seagirt is a shipping terminal owned by the Maryland Port Administration. The MPA contracted with P&O Ports of Baltimore, Inc. to conduct stevedoring at the terminal. Amongst other contractors that leased space at the terminal, Marine Repair Services delivered power to and monitored the temperature of refrigerated containers stored at the terminal. An employee of Marine Repair Services was severely injured in an accident involving a trucking company's attempt to pick up a refrigerated container. Plaintiff, as personal representative of the deceased, brought a wrongful death claim against the truck driver, the trucking company, P&O and the MPA.

The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of P&O and the MPA. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court.

Analysis: An employer will not be liable for the torts of an independent contractor unless the employer retained control over the operative details and manner of the work of the independent contractor such that the independent contractor is not free to do the work in his own way and the employer has retained control over the very thing that caused the injury in question. Here, the MPA and P&O's alleged accident investigation is not relevant to determining the issue of their control of the work performed by Marine Repair Services. Also, while the lease agreement required the MPA's permission before Marine Repair Services could install additional safety signs, permission was not required to impose safety protocol. In sum, Plaintiff failed to show how the MPA and P&O controlled Marine Repair Service's specific work of connecting containers to trucks.

Judge Murphy provided a dissenting opinion, joined by Judge Harrell, which contended the Court of Special Appeals and the Court interpreted too narrowly the "very thing that caused the injury."

The full opinion is available in pdf.

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