Rosenberg v. Equitable Life Assurance Society

595 N.E.2d 840 (1992)

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Rosenberg v. Equitable Life Assurance Society

New York Court of Appeals
595 N.E.2d 840 (1992)

Facts

Fifty-one-year-old Sydney Rosenberg applied for life insurance with the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States (Equitable) (defendant). Because Rosenberg was a diabetic who had suffered a heart attack at the age of 44, Equitable required Rosenberg to take a stress electrocardiogram before it would issue a life-insurance policy to him. Equitable referred Rosenberg to one of several private physicians hired as independent contractors to perform stress tests. Rosenburg’s stress test was administered by Dr. R. Arora. One month after the stress test, Rosenberg suffered another heart attack at home and died. Rosenberg’s widow, Sylvia Rosenberg (plaintiff), as the administratrix of Rosenberg’s estate, brought suit against Equitable, arguing that Equitable was vicariously liable for Dr. Arora’s alleged negligence. An expert testified at trial that given that Rosenberg had experienced a heart attack before, it was dangerous to perform a stress test on him and that such a test was not recommended. Sylvia testified that Rosenberg was sweating, pale, and looking ill when he left Dr. Arora’s office. The trial court instructed a jury properly that although an employer is not generally held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of an independent contractor, an exception provided for liability if the independent contractor was hired to perform work that the employer knew or should have realized was inherently dangerous or presented dangers that the employer ought to have anticipated. If an employer had a legal duty that it was not permitted to delegate, the employer could not escape liability by having an independent contractor perform tasks that were inherently dangerous. A determination that work was inherently dangerous was typically a question of fact for a jury. The trial court also instructed the jury that if the jurors determined that Equitable ought to have anticipated the consequences of Dr. Arora’s alleged negligence, then Equitable could he held responsible for Dr. Arora’s negligence. The jury found Equitable vicariously liable. An appeals court affirmed, holding that the exception for work that was inherently dangerous applied. Equitable appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Simons, J.)

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