Torts II, Pages 713–715

Murrel v. Goertz

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, 1979

Facts:

Defendant Goertz was collecting the costs for the delivery of plaintiff's newspaper, which is published by defendant Oklahoma Publishing Company, when plaintiff began questioning Goertz for damage to his screen door. An argument ensued and and plaintiff slapped Goertz, who hit plaintiff back. Plaintiff was hospitalized by the returned blow and sued defendants for $52,000.

Procedural History:

Trial court sustained OPC's motion for summary judgment.

Issue:

Was OPC liable for Goertz's tort?

Rules:

  • Employers are not vicariously responsible for the tortious acts of independent contractors.

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 714, Paragraph 3

    [T]he decisive test for determining whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor is the right to control the physical details of the work

Plaintiff's Argument:

OPC set Goertz's own territorial boundaries and delivery policies, and customers missed, desiring to complain, or seeking to subscribe all contacted OPC directly.

Defendant's Argument:

Goertz had no direct contact with OPC but was only responsible to Westbrook, an independent contractor for OPC.

Reasoning:

Goertz was hired as an independent contractor for an independent contractor. OPC had no input as to his hiring and did not even know of him. OPC's standards applied to all distributors and such a fact alone does not make Goertz OPC's servant.

Holding:

No, OPC was not liable as Goertz was an independent contractor. Affirmed.

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