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Although contract between the general contractor (GC) and project owner required the contractor to assume supervisory and safety responsibility over the project, the contract also required the GC to require its subcontractors to assume the same responsibilities for the subcontracted work. Where a roofing subcontractor assumed those responsibilities, it alone was responsible for the injuries sustained by its employee. The subcontractor was in the best position to know about the particular dangers involved in its specialty work and to provide appropriate equipment and supervision to safely perform that work. Thus, the GC did not understand to render services necessary for the protection of the injured laborer because both the general contract and the subcontract required the subcontractor to strictly supervise, equip, and ensure that its employees worked in a safe manner. Grady v. Jones Lang Lasalle Construction Co., Inc.   (193 A.3d 283 Supreme Ct. New Hampshire, 2018).

The accident giving rise to this case involved a laborer whose hand was burned when he lit a torch while performing roofing work on a cold windy day. The flame ignited the glove on this right hand. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, the laborer sued the GC and project owner, alleging that they owed him a duty of care. Summary judgment was granted to the defendants and affirmed by the state Supreme Court.

An on-site job box was provided by the subcontractor to its laborer, and from that box the laborer obtained materials it needed for the roofing work. No fire-proof gloves or fire extinguisher were included in the box. The laborer asked his supervisor if there were any gloves available, but his supervisor informed him that there were none at the site.

Due to the cold weather, the laborer put on gloves of his own, and these were made of cotton, which caught fire and burned his hand.

In analyzing the facts and the law, the court explained that a plaintiff can only recover for negligence if it can “demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach proximately caused injury to the plaintiff.” “Absent a duty, there is no negligence.”

On this project, the plaintiff’s employer, and not the GC, was responsible for providing the plaintiff with his equipment and ensuring his safety. It was his employer, and not the GC, who supervised him and provided him with the equipment he used. The applicable state case law precedent did not impose a duty upon general contractors to provide training, equipment, and oversight to subcontractor employees. For these reasons, the court held agreed with the trial court that the GC did not in this case owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

 

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 ConstructionRisk 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. 21, No. 1 (Apr 2019).

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