The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a recent decision stated that residential and commercial property owners who hire contractors are not responsible for personal injuries happening during construction on their property. Previously, plaintiffs had argued for a "retained control" exception where property owners could be held responsible for injuries to workers if the owner was present at the job site and exercised control over the construction project. The theory was if the owner was present at the job site, then the owner bore a responsibility to recognize any unsafe condition and do something about it. This recent decision by the court ends this avenue of attack created by the plaintiff's bar, which had put owners in the uncomfortable position of weighing liability burdens against the need to supervise their own projects. Now the law is clear that property owners are not liable for the injuries to the contractors and their subs so long as the owners did not control the "means and methods" of how the work was performed. In other words, did the owner actually tell the injured party how to ply his trade?
The impact of this decision is clear. With a little proper drafting, both residential and commercial property owners can greatly reduce their risks from personal injury claims of workers injured on their property. Commercial property owners should seek legal advice to have their contracts reviewed to insure they have language in place that require a safe and organized work site. From the contractor and subcontractor perspective, the gun has clearly been leveled in your direction and care needs to be taken to make sure you have the proper insurance in place in light of your increased singular exposure; as well as to make sure your contracts have the appropriate contractual protections as well. Contractor's agreements also now need to be especially careful not to take on unnecessary liability in those situations where the owner is dictating the work or acting as their own GC.
The attorneys at Danziger Shapiro & Leavitt, P.C. have a long-established record of advising property owners and contractors on business issues that arise on a daily basis. If you'd like more information about this recent decision affects your business, or if you'd like to discuss other concerns about your business, please call our office to set up a consultation today.