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Maloney v. Rath

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Ramona M. Rath’s (Defendant) collision with the Plaintiff, Kathleen Maloney (Plaintiff) was caused by a mechanic’s negligent effort to repair her brakes. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the Defendant and the Plaintiff appealed, claiming that the brake repair was a nondelegable duty.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Generally when an activity carries the risk of death or serious bodily injury on cannot avoid liability for negligent maintenance by delegating the maintenance to an independent contractor.

    Facts. The Defendant collided with the car of the Plaintiff. The accident was caused by brake failure. Three months earlier the Defendant had her brakes overhauled by Peter Evanchik (Mr. Evanchik), a mechanic. The trial court determined that Mr. Evanchik’s negligent repair effort was the cause of the accident and rendered judgment if favor of Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Can a Defendant car owner delegate the responsibility of making a brake repair to an independent contractor?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
    * Under strict liability, nondelegable duties exist to assure that injured parties will be compensated by the person who caused the harm and may be held liable for the negligence of his agent, regardless of whether the agent was an employee or independent contractor. The Restatement of Torts Section: 423 and Section: 424 provide that individuals who employ independent contractors to maintain instrumentalities that carry a risk of serious bodily harm or death or who employ contractors to provide for safeguards that the individual was under a statutory or regulatory duty to provide, are subject to liability for the negligence of the contractor. These sections suggest that a nondelegable duty is appropriate in this case.
    * The responsibility for minimizing the risk in this case falls on the car owner. The owner was primarily benefited by the use of the car. The owner chooses the contractor and can insist on one that is financially responsible so the owner can demand indemnity. The owner’s liability insurance properly distributes the costs.

    Discussion. Another common duty that is generally considered nondelegable is a hospital’s duty to provide emergency room care.


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