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Main Contractor Not Liable for Injury to Third Party Due to Independent Contractor's Acts
Description Texas high court held that the primary contractor for the sale and installation of a commercial freezer was not liable to a worker injured when a part of the freezer fell on him due to improper installation by a subcontractor hired by the primary contractor. The contractor's duty was to the buyer; it is not liable to others for problems caused by an independent contractor.
Topic Contracts
Key Words Contractor Liability; Negligence; Control
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Elliott contracted with the Army to install a freezer at Fort Bliss, Texas. The contract required Elliott to install the freezer and provided that Elliott was "fully responsible for the actions of all employees and contracted representatives" and that Elliott would indemnify the Army for damages "and injury to person or property proximately caused by action or inaction attributable" to Elliot. Elliott subcontracted with Lingle to install the unit, which was done. Later, the Army hired IAS to do some construction work. When IAS employee Diaz was installing a sink, a panel from the Elliott freezer, installed by Lingle, fell and injured Diaz, who sued Elliott for negligence. The trial court dismissed the suit, but the appeals court reversed; Elliott petitioned the Texas high court for review.
Decision Reversed. The intent of the contract between the Army and Elliott was to require the seller to be fully financially responsible for any claims against the Army arising out of actions of the seller or its contractors, not to require Elliott to retain control over the freezer installer (Lingle), and thus did not impose liability on Elliott for Diaz's injuries. "For a general contractor [Elliott] to be liable for its independent contractor's [Lingle's] acts, it must have the right to control the means, methods, or details of the independent contractor's work." Elliott's responsibility was to the Army, not to Diaz, with respect to the work done by Lingle. The Army contract does not impose liability on Elliott for Diaz's injury because it does not require Elliott to control Lingle's work.
Citation Elliott-Williams Co.,Inc. V. Diaz, 9 S.W.3d 801 (Sup. Ct., Tx., 1999)

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