This opinion is an extension of an oral opinion rendered February 3, 1984.
This case raises a previously unresolved issue. Can an oil company, which creates the impression by signs and advertising
that it operates a service station, be held liable to customers for the tortious actions of employees of an independent contractor who operates the station? This question was expressly reserved and left unanswered by our Supreme Court in Wallach v. Williams, 52 N.J. 504 (1968).
The affidavits (including all reasonable inferences) reveal the following material facts:
Shell Oil Company (Shell) was the owner of a service station located on Route 46, Little Falls, N.J. which was leased to the defendant Antonio Vamvouris t/a Great Notch Shell Station (Vamvouris) through a motor fuel station lease and dealer agreement. Shell owned various pieces of equipment in the station, including signs, pumps, tanks and miscellaneous products. Shell authorized Vamvouris to use Shell's name, insignia, uniforms and colors to identify the station as a "Shell" station and to advertise that Shell products and services were being sold there. Shell engaged in an advertising campaign in which it distributed "Answer-Man" booklets at its stations. These booklets were to aid motorists in the operation and service of their automobiles.
Plaintiff Joseph C. Shadel (Shadel) had been a patron of this station for a number of years. He believed that Shell was a large international company which cared about its customers. He picked up "Answer-Man" booklets on a number of occasions. Shell's advertising led Shadel to believe that they made a special effort to provide good service to its customers. Shadel believed that the station was owned and operated by Shell and had no reason to believe that the station was operated by an independent franchisee.
On August 13, 1982, Shadel patronized the station to purchase gasoline. Defendant Alton Konur (Konur), an attendant, responded and began to service the vehicle. A dispute arose over the type of gasoline requested and the appropriate payment for the gasoline received. Shadel was knocked to the ground by Konur. Shadel filed suit against defendants Shell,
Vamvouris and Konur, for personal injuries sustained in the incident.
Shell now brings a Motion for Summary Judgment urging that any injuries sustained by the plaintiff were caused by the employee of an independent contractor over whom they had no control. The court, in an oral opinion, ruled that there was no evidence of actual authority or control by Shell over defendants, Vamvouris and Konur. The defendant Vamvouris was an independent contractor and Konur his employee. Plaintiff now argues that Shell's ...