South Alabama Brick Co. v. Carwie – Third Party Liability for Work Injury

A $12.6 million personal injury verdict was recently reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court after a finding that the property owner on a construction site did not owe the injured sub-contractor worker a duty to warn of dangerous condition on the roof.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These were special circumstances specifically related to this case, South Alabama Brick Co., Inc. v. Carwie, which involved a pre-existing condition on the roof about which the contractor and plaintiff’s employer were aware or should have been aware

According to court records, defendant is a large supplier of building materials, including bricks and roofing materials, with a warehouse located in Mobile, AL. The roof of the warehouse includes a large flat area that contained 12 skylights and a large pitched area that contained 27 skylights. 

In late 2010, defendant noticed water was dripping inside from somewhere in the roof. A general manager contacted a contractor regarding the need for repairs. It was the same company defendant had called numerous times to fix any roofing issues, though none had ever actually been on top of the roof.

Defendant administrators would later testify the work by the contractor had been acceptable.

Contractor proposed $10,000 to fix the roof, and defendant agreed.

The contractor used subcontractors and temporary employees to perform the work. Most of the time, the contractor did residential work and defendant was its only commercial contractor. Defense testified there had been no prior safety issues involving the contractor and they left any fall protection measures up to the contractor. There was no evidence presented that defense exercised any control over the manner in which contractor or its subcontractors performed the work.

One of the subcontractors was a man who brought a “crew,” who he said were not his employees; they all divided the money equally for the job. The contractor said he warned this crew that the flat areas on the skylight could be dangerous and that the men shouldn’t step on them, as they would not support the full weight of an adult. He said he even took him up to the roof and pointed them out. He also said he informed the crew they had to abide by all OSHA fall protection standards, which require skylights to be covered with plywood and harnesses.

Contractor also said he expected the subcontractor to purchase all these supplies plus workers’ compensation insurance.

The crew leader said he did not know the skylights were dangerous and he was given no safety guidelines or supplies. He further said that while the skylights were a somewhat different shade than the rest of the flat roof, they were hard to see because they weren’t raised and they were dirty, making them appear the same shade as the roof in the sunlight.

On the third day of the job, one of the crew workers stood up, took a step back and lost his balance. He fell backward onto one of the skylights on a flat area of the roof. He fell through the skylight and hit the concrete floor, about 20 feet below. As a result, he suffered catastrophic injuries.

A conservator for the injured worker sued the contractor and the property owner for negligence.

As it pertains to the case against the property owner, defendant argued the danger posed by skylights was open and obvious, the entity that employed the worker was responsible for his safety and his superior had knowledge about the danger presented by the skylights and was responsible to warn him of that risk.

Trial court rejected this argument. Plaintiff was awarded $12.6 million in damages.

Defendant contractor did not appeal, but defendant property owner did. The state supreme court reversed the finding of liability against the property owner in this case. Because the condition of the roof was pre-existing and the subcontractor and contractor were aware of it, it was not defendant property owner’s duty to warn.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

South Alabama Brick Co., Inc. v. Carwie, March 18, 2016, Alabama Supreme Court

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