Law School Case Brief
Supreme Pork, Inc. v. Master Blaster, Inc. - 2009 S.D. 20, 764 N.W.2d 474
As a limitation to the doctrine of respondeat superior, the Minnesota Supreme Court has laid down the rule that an employer is not liable for the consequences of the negligent acts of an independent contractor. But the tendency is to enlarge the operation of the doctrine of respondeat superior, and it is a limit which has often been exceeded. Indeed it would be proper to say that the rule is now primarily important as a preamble to the catalog of its exceptions. Where one person owes another a contractual duty to act, the law imposes upon the person owing that duty the further duty of acting with due care in the performance of his contract so as not to injure the contractee's person or property. This duty is nondelegable. That is, the performance of the contract may be delegated to another, but this delegation does not relieve the contractor of the duty to act, or of his duty to act with due care. Consequently, a defendant is subject to liability for damage suffered by the contractee as a result of the negligence of the independent subcontractor. This principle survives to this day. Under Minnesota's rule, a principal contractor is liable for the negligence of its subcontractor.
After a small fire broke out in Supreme Pork, Inc. (“Supreme Pork”) facility, Master Blaster, Inc. (“Master Blaster”) was hired to add and install a second power washer. Master Blaster recommended a subcontractor to redesign a venting system and install a new chimney. A second fire broke out, which caused significant damage to the facility. The trial court determined that Master Blaster was liable for the subcontractor's negligence, and this appeal followed.
Was Master Blaster liable for damages caused to Supreme Pork?
The Supreme Court of South Dakota determined that no jury instruction was required on the issue of agency. Further, Master Blaster was liable for the negligence of the subcontractor under Minnesota law. The trial court did not err when it admitted particular testimony from expert witnesses. Further, pursuant to S.D. R. Evid. 404(b), S.D. Codified Laws § 19-12-5, the trial court properly admitted evidence of non-causal code violations on the same project and evidence of a 1999 fire at another facility. The trial court's rulings on relevance and admissibility were not an abuse of discretion. Even if the evidence was improperly admitted, prejudicial error was not shown. Finally, the testimony regarding "pyrolysis" did not fail to meet the Daubert standard.
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