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Proactive Safety Oversight May Open General Contractor To Negligence Liability

Friday, January 04, 2008 02:12 pm

Proactive Safety Oversight May Open General Contractor To Negligence Liability

The United States Court of Appeals ruled that in Illinois and other states that have adopted Restat 2d of Torts, 414, a contractor's employer who retains control over any operative detail is directly liable for that contractor's negligence, even when that control is limited to directing or forbidding work to be done. It further found that extensive efforts by a general contractor to maintain safety standards may constitute control over operative details and therefore open it to direct negligence liability for a subcontractor's employee's injury -- even if the contract states that the subcontractor is solely responsible for operational details and safety.

The case involved a bricklayer who fell from a scaffold while doing renovation work in Illinois. The scaffold had been specially designed to accommodate an unusual work area. However, although the overseer of the project -- joint venture TBMK -- regularly conducted scaffolding inspections, it hadn't inspected this particular piece of scaffolding before the fall occurred.

The bricklayer sued TBMK for his injuries, alleging negligence on the basis of 414 and res ipsa loquitur. The district court had ruled that since a subcontractor, which worked for TBMK and employed the bricklayer, was responsible for all relevant operative work details, neither doctrine could serve as the bas [...]

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