Where a project owner had the contractual right to inspect the contractor’s work progress for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the plans and specifications, a court held that this did not give the owner control over the sight for the purpose of assuring safety.

The contract stated that the “City shall not supervise, direct, or have control over, or be responsible for, Contractor’s means, methods, techniques, sequences or procedures of construction, or for the safety precautions and programs incident thereto.” An employee of a subcontractor was injured on the job when a plank in a flying concrete form fell away from the concrete. That individual sued both the prime contractor and the project owner, arguing that their daily inspection of the work should have led them to detect and correct the safety violations at the site.

According to the court, the inspection had been performed for the limited purpose of determining compliance with plans and specifications and had nothing to do with site safety. The work in question had been under supervision and control of the subcontractor’s project superintendent. As explained by the court: “Liability attaches only when the owner or general contractor retains control over the operative details of the hired work. In the absence of direct management over the means and methods of the independent contractor’s work or the provision of the equipment which caused the injury, no legal duty is created.” Zamudio, v. City and County of San Francisco, 82 Cal. Rptr. 2d 664 (Cal. App. 1 Dist 1999).

About the author: Article written by J. Kent Holland, Jr.,  a construction lawyer located in Tysons Corner, Virginia,  with a national practice (formerly with Wickwire Gavin, P.C. and now with Construction Risk Counsel, PLLC) representing design professionals, contractors and project owners.  He is founder and president of a consulting firm, ConstructionRisk, LLC, providing consulting services to owners, design professionals, contractors and attorneys on construction projects.  He is publisher of ConstructionRisk.com Report and may be reached at Kent@ConstructionRisk.com or by calling 703-623-1932.  This article is published in ConstructionRisk.com Report, Vol. 1, No. 6 (Sep 1999)