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‘Welcome to the Jungle’ of Subcontractor Liability



By Chase Fisher

The injured subcontractor argued that Guns and Hoses installed the door to the elevator shaft during the construction of a house, but did not comply with OSHA standards or otherwise adequately secure the door to the elevator shaft and post adequate warnings that the door opened to an empty elevator shaft.  The court, however, found that ‘Guns and Hoses’ sufficiently secured the door and posted warnings.  

‘Don’t Cry’ about it
Generally, five factors must be present for any successful negligence case: the existence of a legal duty to exercise reasonable care; a failure to exercise reasonable care; cause in fact of physical harm by the negligent conduct; physical harm in the form of actual damages; and proximate cause, a showing that the harm is within the scope of liability.  Here, the court concluded that the injured subcontractor failed to prove that Guns and Hoses owed him a legal duty under the circumstances of the case.

In particular, the Court held that Guns and Hoses owed the same duty to employees of other contractors as it did to the average person, which is to protect them from dangerous conditions in the work Guns & Hoses was hired to perform – door installation.  Here, however, the court found the injured subcontractor’s injury was caused by the dangerous condition of the empty elevator shaft, which was not within Guns & Hoses’ control.  It was the general contractor who controlled all work in and around the elevator shaft at all times during the construction, and it was responsible for ensuring the safety of other workers around the dangerous condition it created. The court found it was undisputed that Guns and Hoses secured the elevator shaft doors after installing them. Therefore, the court held that Guns and Hoses did not owe a duty to the injured subcontractor.

This case presents a simple introduction to the concept of negligence.  Guns & Hoses did not owe a duty to protect and/or warn others about the danger posed by the empty elevator shaft; however, liability would have easily attached if the door they installed contributed to the accident.  As with any construction site, it is best to advise your workers to take every reasonable precaution to keep the worksite safe by performing such tasks as putting away tools, materials, and debris; putting up warning signs or construction signs; and placing barriers to separate the worksite from passersby.  Even seemingly inconsequential items, such as nails on the ground, can lead to significant liability.

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