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Murrell v. Goertz

Citation. 597 P.2d 1223
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was involved in a physical altercation with defendant. Plaintiff sued defendant for damages resulting from the alleged assault and battery. Plaintiff also sued the publishing company with which defendant independently contracted, alleging that the company was vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its servants. The trial court granted summary judgment for the co-defendant publishing company. Plaintiff appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A company is generally not vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its independent contractors.


Bruce Goertz (defendant-appellee) made monthly collections for the Daily Oklahoman newspaper one morning. When he encountered C.L. Murrell (plaintiff-appellant), she questioned him regarding damage to her screen door that was caused by one of the Daily Oklahoman’s newspaper carriers throwing a newspaper into it. The conversation between Goertz and Murrell escalated into a physical altercation. Murrell slapped Goertz. In return, Goertz struck Murrell, who was subsequently hospitalized and required medical treatment as a result of the blow. Murrell filed suit against both Goertz and the Oklahoma Publishing Company (the publisher of the Daily Oklahoman), seeking damages for Goertz’s alleged assault and battery. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of co-defendant Oklahoma Publishing Company. Murrell appealed the trial court’s decision, contending that Goertz was a servant of the Oklahoma Publishing Company.


Whether defendant was an independent contractor, thereby absolving the company he contracted with of vicarious liability for his tortious acts?


Yes, Goertz was not a servant of the Oklahoma Publishing Company, but instead an independent contractor. Goertz was not subject to the supervision, dominion, and control of the company as to the manner and method of performing his job. The publishing company is therefore not vicariously liable for Goertz’s tortious acts. The order of the trial court is affirmed.


An independent contractor differs from a servant in that the former has the right to control the physical details of his or her work. Here, Goertz was hired as an independent carrier salesman. The Oklahoma Publishing Company had no input in the decision to hire Goertz, nor did the company have any knowledge of Goertz’s employment. Goertz, likewise, had no direct contact with the company during his employment. The conduct between the co-defendants did not rise to level of supervision, dominion, or control as to qualify Goertz as a servant of the company.

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