Attacked Nurse’s Negligence Suit Against Security Company Continues

In Kuti v. Sera Sec. Servs., 2020 NY Slip Op 02153 (App. Div. 1st Dept. April 2, 2020), the Appellate Division, First Department affirmed the denial of defendant security company’s motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff here is a nurse who was injured when she was attacked by a patient at the healthcare facility where she worked. Defendant Sera Security Services provided security for the facility pursuant to a contract. She sued the security company. Defendant moved for summary judgment, which the motion court denied. This court affirms.

The court summarized the law regarding the liability of an independent contractor as follows:

[A] finding of negligence requires a finding that defendant breached a duty it owes to plaintiff. [T]he existence and scope of a duty is a question of law requiring courts to balance sometimes competing public policy considerations (Espinal [v. Melville Snow Contrs.], 98 NY2d [136,] 138 [2002]). Unlike foreseeability and causation, which are issues generally and more suitably entrusted to fact finder adjudication, the definition of the existence and scope of an alleged tortfeasor’s duty is usually a legal, policy-laden declaration reserved for Judges to make prior to submitting anything to fact-finding or jury consideration (Palka v Servicemaster Mgt. Servs. Corp., 83 NY2d 579, 585 [1994]). A contractual duty, standing alone, generally does not give rise to third-party liability. However, a court may impose third-party liability where the alleged tortfeasor has entirely displaced the other contracting party’s duty to maintain safe premises, or where plaintiff detrimentally relies on the continued performance of the contracting party’s duties. [Internal quotation marks omitted]

Applying the law, it held that summary judgment was not warranted because plaintiff “raised questions as to whether Sera had a duty to plaintiff, either because she was a third-party beneficiary under the contract with plaintiff’s employer, or because she had detrimentally relied on Sera’s continued performance of its contractual duties.”