In a recent personal injury case, a state appellate court held that a grocery store could be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries that were caused by an independently contracted maintenance worker’s failure to clean up a puddle of soapy water after mopping the floor. The case presents an interesting and important issue for Washington, D.C. personal injury victims because it illustrates under what circumstances a business owner can be held liable for the negligence of others.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was shopping at the defendant grocery store when she slipped and fell in a puddle of soapy water. Evidently, the puddle formed after the maintenance worker had mopped the store’s floors the evening before.
The maintenance worker did not work for the defendant grocery store, but for a company that the grocery store had contracted with to perform all the store’s cleaning. So the grocery store contracted with the cleaning company to perform the cleaning services, and then the cleaning company hired the maintenance worker as an independent contractor to perform the actual cleaning.
The plaintiff field a premises liability lawsuit against all three defendants, the grocery store, the cleaning company, and the maintenance worker. The plaintiff settle her case against the maintenance worker prior to trial.
After a jury trial, the grocery store was found to be 5% liable, the maintenance worker 75% liable, the plaintiff 20% liable, and the cleaning company 0% liable. The plaintiff argued that the grocery store and cleaning company should be responsible to cover the maintenance worker’s share of fault, because the grocery store was not able to contract away its responsibility to maintain a safe store.
The court agreed insofar as the grocery store was involved. The court explained that the duty to maintain a safe location was non-delegable, meaning that a business owner cannot assign the duty to another party. Here, the court explained that the grocery store was permitted to have another party perform the cleaning, however, the liability for that party’s negligence would ultimately flow back to the grocery store.
The court disagreed with the plaintiff regarding the cleaning company. The court explained that, as a general rule, a party is not responsible for the negligence of an independent contractor absent an explicit agreement or in other limited situations that were not present here. The court noted that there was no evidence suggesting that the cleaning company assumed the duty through any contract or agreement. Thus, the cleaning company was not held responsible for the maintenance worker’s negligence. However, because the grocery store could not delegate its duty to maintain a safe premises for customers, the grocery store will be held liable for the worker’s share of the blame.
Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC represent injury victims in a wide range of cases, including slip-and-fall accidents. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case, call 410-654-3600.
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