RI Supreme Court rules service provider not liable for cable technician’s traffic accident
Court determined the technician was an independent contractor rather than an employee despite displaying service-provider logos on clothing and vehicle.
On February 21 the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of Cox Communications, in a case brought to it by a woman who claimed injury after she was rear-ended at an intersection by a technician who performed cableinstallations for Cox.
The plaintiff, Barbara Cayer, sued the technician, the technician’s wife—who owned the van he was driving—and Cox. Both the Superior Court and most recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cox in large part because the technician was in practicality two steps removed from Cox. The technician, Nelson Ovalles, worked for M&M Communications Inc., which had established an independent-contractor relationship with Cox under which M&M performed Cox’s overflow work. Additionally, Ovalles was an independent contractor for, not an employee of, M&M. The RI Supreme Court decision was unanimous, and the opinion authored by associate justice Francis X. Flaherty stated, “We have no hesitation in holding that summary judgment in favor of Cox was proper.”
Earlier, the opinion addresses the fact that Ovalles—an independent contractor of an independent contractor of Cox—displayed the Cox logo on his work clothing as well as his vehicle. The opinion explained, “Although M&M’s technicians were required to designate their affiliation with both M&M and Cox on their vehicles, clothing, and identification badges, this was necessary to notify customers that the technician who showed up at their homes or businesses was affiliated with the customer’s cable provider. These identification requirements do not establish an ability to control a person’s performance as is required for an employer-employee relationship.”
In this appeal to the state Supreme Court, Cayer also tried to amend the complaint to include a claim against M&M. The Supreme Court did not entertain that appeal because the case between Cayer and Ovalles remains unresolved. Previously, the Superior Court denied the plaintiff’s attempt to include M&M in the complaint. In the Supreme Court’s opinion, it stated, “As the case proceeds against the Ovalleses and should it result in a final judgment, an opportunity may present itself for this Court to review the motion to amend … At this time, however, the appeal of the motion to amend is not properly before us, and we therefore will not entertain it.”