In a recent unpublished decision, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered whether
a hotel engaging an independent contractor had liability to the hotel for physical injuries he sustained on the job.  The contractor had been hired to install sheetrock over skylights in the ballroom and paint the walls.  Using his own ladder to spackle the walls, he fell and was hurt.  The contractor could not say why he fell.  The hotel argued that it owed no duty to the contractor since he was an independent contractor using his own equipment and he fell after failing to secure his own ladder.  The contractor claimed that the hotel owed him a duty because it supervised him and allowed work to proceed in an unsafe work environment.

The trial court found that the plaintiff was hired as an independent contractor and that the hotel never supervised his work.  It noted that the contractor supplied his own equipment, was hired for the specific job, and performed work that was not a part of the hotel’s regular business.
The court held that the hotel had no duty to protect the plaintiff from the hazard created by doing the contract work.

The court also found that the hotel owed the contractor no duty under general negligence principles since the hotel did not control the means or methods of the work, supply equipment, or was aware of the risk of harm that the contractor had created for himself by climbing his own ladder.

The Appellate Division agreed with the trial judge.  We should also note that this type of accident would often be excluded from coverage under the hotel’s available insurance.  Thus,
it is up to the independent contractor to seek insurances that may protect him in the event of his personal injury.  We often provide consultation on insurance coverage issues in our practice.

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