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Liability For Independent Contractors

By Alderman & Alderman

A manufacturing company contracted with a security firm to provide a security guard. The guard shot and killed an individual who was trespassing, but not for criminal purposes, on company property, after the person had obeyed the guard's order to lie on the ground.

The company argued that it could not be held liable for the negligent acts of an independent contractor, but a state supreme court ruled otherwise. 
The court agreed that the security firm and its guard were independent contractors. The manufacturing company's downfall was an exception to the rule of no liability for acts of independent contractors. If the work to be performed is inherently dangerous, the work can be delegated to an independent contractor, but the duty to use reasonable care cannot be avoided by the employer. Work is inherently dangerous when it involves a foreseeable risk of physical harm to others and requires special precautions. 

In the case of the trigger-happy security guard, who was armed and instructed to "deter" thieves and vandals, dangerous confrontations between the guard and persons entering the property were contemplated. In the context of such danger, the independent contractor status of the guard became a mere legal technicality that did not shield the manufacturing company from liability. 

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