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In Tennessee, Contractors Are Not Usually Liable for Their Subcontractor's Negligence

Posted on Apr 2 2017 4:43PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, Joe Patton Rogers v. Bradley Dean Hadju, No. W2016-00850-COA-R3-CV, 2017 WL 1077059 (Tenn.Ct.App. 2017) discussed whether a contractor can be held responsible for the actions of their subcontractor.  In this case, there were multiple contracts between several entities for a construction project where multiple contractors subcontracted out work.  Ultimately, the Plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident that caused serious injuries to the Plaintiff.  The question, therefore, was whether a contractor can be held responsible for the actions of its subcontractor (both were sued for the accident in question).

 

The general law in Tennessee is that “where one person has sustained an injury from the negligence of another, he must, in general, proceed against him by whose negligence the injury was occasioned.” Rogers at 3.  Further, “while an employer may be held liable for the negligence of its employee, however, they are generally not liable for the negligence of independent contractors.”  Rogers at 3 (citing Givens v. Mullikin, 75 S.W.3d 383, 384 (Tenn. 2012)).  The Court then discussed how people or entities are classified as either employees or independent contractors.  Generally, the relationship can be determined by examining the agreement between parties.  The Court went on to discuss this issue as follows:

 

In determining whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor, Tennessee courts are guided by the following factors: (1) the right to control the conduct of the work, (2) the right of termination, (3) method of payment, (4) whether or not the worker furnishes his own helpers, (5) whether or not the worker furnishes his own tools, (6) self-scheduling of working hours, and (7) freedom to render services to other entities. Goodale v. Langenberg, 243 S.W.3d 575, 582-83 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). Those factors, however, are not absolute, and no single factor is conclusive.  While the “right to control” is the primary test, it is not exclusive, and the entire relationship must be examined.

 

Rogers at 3.  As a result, the essence of determining whether an entity is an “employee” or an “independent contractor” is the element of control.  The Court noted that the “mere fact that the contractor reserves the right to supervise the work to ensure that the end result conforms to the plans does not make this subcontractor an employee when the contractor does not control the actual conduct or method of work.  Rogers at 4.  (citing Smart v. Embry, 348 S.W.2d 322 (Tenn. 1961)). 

 

The Court noted that in this particular case, the contractor “retained control over the commencement, speed, and sequence of [the contractor’s] work to ensure that it conformed to the project as a whole, but they did not retain control over the actual conduct or method of [the contractor’s] work.”  Rogers at 4.  The Court also noted that the general contractor did not pay the subcontractor’s employees and the subcontractor was required to furnish all materials, labor, licenses and permits regarding the work.  Additionally, the subcontractor retained the ability to self-schedule its hours and render services to other entities during the time of contract. 

 

As a result, after considering all the factors, the Court concluded that the general contractor was not responsible for the subcontractors work and was therefore entitled to summary judgment as was provided by the trial court in this case.  As a result, as a matter of law they were found not responsible for Plaintiff’s injuries in the accident.  It is very important to consider the tests outlined in this case when trying to determine if the general contractor will be held responsible for the actions of the subcontractor in litigation.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Negligence, Defenses, Torts, Construction Law, Tennessee Premises Liability
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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