Direct Appeal Third District, West Jordan The Honorable Judge
L. Douglas Hogan No. 130400905
F. Bertch, Kevin K. Robson, Salt Lake City, for appellant
R. Jones, Salt Lake City, for appellees
JUSTICE PEARCE authored the opinion of the Court, in which
CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT, ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE LEE, JUSTICE
HIMONAS, and JUSTICE PETERSEN joined.
Gloria Rodriguez arrived at a Smith's grocery store
shortly after it opened at 6:00 a.m. to purchase her
breakfast. As she walked toward aisle 13, she slipped on a
puddle of soapy water. Rodriguez fell, injuring her head,
neck, and shoulders. Rodriguez sued The Kroger Company and
Smith's Food & Drugs Centers, Inc. (collectively,
Smith's), the janitorial company Smith's contracted
with to clean the floors, and the independent contractor the
janitorial company hired to do the work. Rodriguez settled
with the independent contractor before trial. At trial, a
jury apportioned 5 percent of the fault to Smith's, none
of the fault to the janitorial company, 75 percent of the
fault to the independent contractor, and 20 percent of the
fault to Rodriguez herself. After trial, Rodriguez argued
that Smith's and the janitorial company were liable for
the independent contractor's share of the damages. The
district court disagreed and entered judgment based on the
jury's allocation of fault. The district court also
awarded Rodriguez 5 percent of her costs. Rodriguez appealed.
Rodriguez challenges the district court's final judgment.
Rodriguez contends that because Smith's was charged with
a nondelegable duty to keep its premises safe, the court
should have required Smith's to pay damages for the
independent contractor's negligence in addition to its
own. Rodriguez also claims that the nondelegable duty
doctrine mandated that the district court enter judgment
against the janitorial company for the damages flowing from
the independent contractor's negligence.
We conclude that Smith's is liable for the damages the
independent contractor caused. But because Rodriguez did not
demonstrate that the janitorial company also assumed
Smith's nondelegable duty, we conclude that the district
court did not err by refusing to enter judgment against the
janitorial company for the independent contractor's
negligence. Additionally, we conclude that costs need not be
allocated in proportion to a party's fault under the
Liability Reform Act, and remand for a redetermination of
costs. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the district
court in part, affirm in part, and remand.
Smith's contracted with J&I Maintenance to clean its
floors. In turn, J&I contracted with Benigno Galeno to
perform the cleaning services. While cleaning the store one
night, Galeno left a puddle of water at the end of aisle 13.
Shortly after the store opened, Rodriguez arrived at a
Smith's grocery store to purchase her breakfast.
Rodriguez walked through the front doors and headed for aisle
13. Rodriguez "suddenly and unexpectedly slipped on a
puddle of water . . . ." Rodriguez fell, injuring her
head, neck, and shoulders.
Rodriguez sued Smith's, J&I, and Galeno. Before
trial, Rodriguez settled with Galeno. Shortly before the case went
to the jury, the parties agreed to this jury instruction:
The parties have stipulated that J&I Maintenance, Inc.
was the independent contractor of [Smith's] to, among
other things, clean its floors. The parties have also
stipulated that [Benigno Galeno] . . . was the independent
contractor of J&I Maintenance, Inc. to clean
[Smith's] floors. Usually, [Smith's] would not be
liable for the negligence of an independent contractor.
However, [Smith's] has a nondelegable duty to keep its
premises reasonably safe for invitees, and the law imposes
liability for physical harm caused by a breach of the
nondelegable duty to keep its premises reasonably safe for
invitees even though [Smith's] may have contracted with
others who performed the work which caused the injury.
jury allocated 5 percent of the fault to Smith's, none to
J&I, 75 percent to Galeno, and 20 percent to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez filed a proposed judgment and argued that because
Smith's owed a nondelegable duty to keep its store
reasonably safe for its customers, the court should enter
judgment against Smith's for 80 percent of
Rodriguez's damages: 5 percent attributable to the fault
allocated to Smith's and 75 percent attributable to the
fault allocated to Galeno. Additionally, Rodriguez argued
that because J&I and Galeno assumed Smith's
nondelegable duty, the court should enter judgment against
J&I for 75 percent of Rodriguez's damages,
attributable to 75 percent of the fault allocated to Galeno.
Smith's and J&I opposed Rodriguez's proposed
judgment. They argued that such a rejiggering of liability
would run afoul of Utah's Liability Reform Act (LRA).
Smith's and J&I reasoned that under the LRA, no
defendant can be liable to any person seeking recovery for
any amount in excess of the proportion of fault attributed to
that defendant, and that Rodriguez's proposed judgment
would do precisely that. (Citing Utah Code §
The district court agreed with Smith's and J&I's
reading of the LRA. The court entered judgment against
Smith's for 5 percent of Rodriguez's damages. The
court also awarded Rodriguez 5 percent of her costs.
AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Rodriguez raises two issues on appeal. First, Rodriguez
contends that the district court erred by declining to enter
judgment against Smith's and J&I for the portion of
damages Galeno's negligence caused. Rodriguez argues
that under the nondelegable duty doctrine, both Smith's
and J&I are liable for the 75 percent of the fault
allocated to Galeno. "The question of whether a duty
exists is a question of law. . . . [R]esolution of this issue
begins with an examination of the legal relationships between
the parties, followed by an analysis of the duties created by
these relationships." Yazd v. Woodside Homes
Corp., 2006 UT 47, ¶ 15, 143 P.3d 283 (citation
omitted). Smith's and J&I argue that the LRA prevents
the court from shifting Galeno's portion of the damages
to them. "The application of the LRA in apportioning
fault is a legal question of statutory construction, which we
review for correctness." Bishop v. GenTec Inc.,
2002 UT 36, ¶ 8, 48 P.3d 218.
Second, Rodriguez contends that the trial court erred when it
awarded her only 5 percent of her costs. "A trial
court's decision to award the prevailing party its costs
is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard."
Coleman ex rel. Schefski v. Stevens, 2000 UT 98,
¶ 10, 17 P.3d 1122. However, whether the district court
applied the appropriate standard to determine those costs
presents a legal question that we review for correctness.
Lyon v. Burton, 2000 UT 55, ¶ 76, 5 P.3d 616
(holding that when the reasons for the trial court's
decisions to award costs involve legal determinations, we
review the court's decision for correctness); cf.
Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, Ltd., 201 ...