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Murrell v. Goertz

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Murrell (Appellant) and Bruce Goertz (Goertz) had an altercation that resulted in Goertz striking Appellant. The Appellant sued Goertz and the Appellee, his employer Oklahoma Publishing Company (Appellee), claiming that Appellee was liable under respondeat superior. Appellee and Goertz claim that Goertz was an independent contractor.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Those who employ independent contractors are not liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

    Facts. Goertz made a monthly collection for the delivery of Appellee’s newspaper at the Appellant’s home. Appellant questioned Goertz regarding damage done to his screen caused by the carrier throwing the newspaper into it. An argument began and Appellant slapped Goertz, who then struck the Appellant, injuring him. Appellant claimed that Goertz was a servant of Appellee either by agreement between the co-defendants or by Appellee creating that belief in Appellant. Both Appellee and Goertz denied that Goertz was Appellee’s servant.

    Issue. Was Goertz an independent contractor rather than a servant, thus removing Appellee from liability under respondeat superior?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * An independent contractor performs a certain service for another according to his own methods and manner, with no control from his employer except as to the result of the services. The decisive test for differentiating between an independent contractor and a servant is the right to control the physical details of the work.
    * Appellant cites several policies that Goertz had to abide by in support of his argument that he was the servant of Appellee. Appellee points out that Goertz had no contact with Appellee and Westbrook, an independent newspaper distributor for Appellee, stated that Goertz was responsible only to him.
    * This court finds that Goertz was hired as an independent carrier salesman by Westbrook, who was also an independent contractor. The policies of Appellee do not rise to the level of supervision to make Goertz Appellee’s servant.

    Discussion. Independent contractors do their work on their own time, under no one’s direction, but their own.


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