Workplace injuries can happen anywhere, but construction sites are often full of numerous hazards. If a worker suffers a catastrophic personal injury on a construction site, the worker or the worker’s family may have grounds for a third-party liability claim against the property owner or other subcontractors on site.
We mention this because usually when an injury is work-related, the injured worker is limited by the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation law to only get workers’ compensation from an employer – even if that employer was negligent. However, there are cases in which non-employers are liable too for work injuries, and this is where a third-party liability claim may arise. We see this a lot in construction accident cases because there are often so many different parties – owners, general contractors, subcontractors, and employees of all those. Whether a third-party claim for a construction site injury is viable is going to depend on the contracts among those various entities and which company was paying for workers’ compensation insurance.
Similar provisions pertaining to workers’ compensation exist in states across the country. In a recent case before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, two companies – neither a direct employer of the injured worker – were battling over which may be liable for the incident.
According to court records, the plaintiff was working for on a construction site, installing cable television and voice data on a new building in Portsmouth in 2008. The general contractor on the project we’ll refer to as “LL.” This firm subcontracted with a company we’ll refer to as “REC” to do electrical work. The plaintiff worked for a third company, “CTC,” which was a subcontractor of REC. The plaintiff was in charge of installing wiring throughout the building.
On one afternoon, the plaintiff suffered a severe personal injury when he tripped and fell on a can of glue left carelessly on the stairs between the basement and the first floor by subcontracting plumbers, “DMC.”
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit, alleging negligence against LL and DMC. Subsequent to this, LL filed a third-party complaint against REC, alleging REC was required contractually to defend and indemnify LL from these types of injury claims. Furthermore, LL alleged REC breached its contract because it was required under the terms of the agreement to secure a commercial general liability insurance policy, which it allegedly failed to do.
The trial court granted REC’s motion for summary judgment, which would mean the plaintiff’s claim would proceed solely against LL and DMC.
LL appealed, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed. Although the court didn’t rule that REC was liable to indemnify in this case, it did find there were genuine issues of material fact that meant the case wasn’t ripe for summary judgment. The contract in question was ambiguous, the court ruled. The case was remanded, but with instructions from the court that an immediate grant of summary judgment for LL would be improper too. The lower court will need to more carefully consider the terms of that contract before making a ruling.
This case sheds light on the complexity of so many construction accident claims, as well as the importance of hiring an experienced attorney to help you seek damages.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Walsh v. Lend Lease Construction v. Rossie Electric Co., Inc., March 24, 2017, Rhode Island Supreme Court
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Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Gets a Second Go, March 20, 2017, Catastrophic Injury Lawyer Blog