Palka v. Servicemaster Management Servs. Corp.

634 N.E.2d 189



When a party contracts to inspect and repair and possesses the exclusive management and control of real or personal property which results in negligent infliction of injury, its assumed duty extends to noncontracting individuals reasonably within the zone and contemplation of the intended safety services.


Plaintiff nurse appealed from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Third Judicial Department (New York), which reversed a judgment for her in her personal injury suit against defendant hospital management corporation, granted the management corporation's motion for a directed verdict, and dismissed the complaint. The nurse was injured when a wall-mounted fan fell on her while she was at the hospital. Prior to the accident, the hospital had contracted with the management corporation to implement a maintenance program for the hospital premises. While the contract did not mention fan maintenance, an employee of the management corporation testified that part of the corporation's general duties was to create a clean and safe environment for employees and patients, to reduce safety hazards and to engage in preventative maintenance and casualty prevention.


Should defendant hospital management corporation be answerable to plaintiff for tortiously inflicted personal injuries arising from defendant's negligent or failed performance of the contractual obligations to the hospital?




The court reversed the order of the appellate division and reinstated the judgment of the trial court. The court held the extensive services provided under the management corporation's contract with the hospital displaced entirely the hospital's prior in-house maintenance program and substituted an exclusive responsibility for these services in the management corporation. It further held the management corporation's assumed duty extended to the nurse because she was reasonably within the zone and contemplation of the intended safety services. The management corporation should have foreseen the likelihood of physical harm to third persons as a result of the hospital's reasonable reliance on it to discover or repair dangerous conditions.

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