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Hoover v. Sun Oil Co. - 58 Del. 553, 212 A.2d 214 (1965)


Whether the operator of a service station is an independent contractor of the oil company that owns the service station varies according to the contracts involved and the conduct and evidence of control under those contracts. The test to be applied is that of whether the oil company retains the right to control the details of the day-to-day operation of the service station; control or influence over results alone is viewed as insufficient.


The fire started at the rear of plaintiffs' car where it was being filled with gasoline and was allegedly caused by the negligence of John Smilyk, an employee of Barone. Plaintiffs Gerald and Jule Hoover brought suit against Smilyk, Barone and Sun Oil Company (Sun), which owned the service station. Sun has moved for summary judgment as to it on the basis that Barone was an independent contractor and therefore the alleged negligence of his employee could not result in liability as to Sun. The Hoovers argued instead that Barone was acting as Sun's agent and that Sun may therefore be responsible for plaintiffs' injuries.


Was Baron an agent of the Sun Oil Company?


No; he was an independent contractor.


The court granted the Sun Oil Company's motion for summary judgment, holding the operator was an independent contractor under the undisputed facts. The lease contract and dealer's agreement failed to establish any relationship other than landlord-tenant and independent contractor. There was nothing in the parties' conduct that was inconsistent with that relationship. While Sun Oil and the Barone had a mutual interest in the sale of the Sun's products and the success of the operator's business, Sun had no control over the day-to-day operation of the service station. Therefore, Sun could not be liable for the allegedly negligent acts of the Barone's employee.

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