Contractor responsible for repairing jewelry display is not responsible for injury to saleswoman
Gena Smith was responsible for opening the jewelry displays at the Oakland Mall J.C. Penney store. The display collapses during off hours to render it more secure. When it malfunctioned, store employees contacted James Hughes, the on-site technician for Johnson Controls, to repair the display. Johnson did not attempt the repair but instead hired an independent contractor to do the work. He left the premises while they were working on the display, and did not inspect their work the following morning.When Ms. Smith arrived, she attempted to open the display and a large, detached cover fell on her foot causing serious injury. She sued Johnson Controls and the contractor hired by Hughes to effect the repair. The hired technicians had no insurance coverge, apparently, and were defaulted. Hughes and Johnson Controls were dismissed from the action, as the Court held that they owed no duty to inspect or assure the quality of the fly-by-night contracted technicians.
The Court relied upon a previous KMart case in holding that in most cases "a person who hires an independent contractor owes no duty to investigate the contractor and may assume that the contractor is competent." The Court also held that Smith wasn't a third-party beneficiary of the J.C. Penney contract with Johnson Controls which required the latter to maintain the premises.