When you are injured because of dangers on a construction worksite it can be hard to know where the liability lies: the landowner, the commercial tenant, or the contractor. A recently published Michigan Court of Appeals decision, Finazzo v Fire Equip Co, asks whether you can sue contractors for worksite injuries under premises liability.
Security Guard Sues Contractors For Worksite Injuries
David Finazzo was a security guard at an Ann Arbor business, ITC. The company hired Fire Equipment Company (FEC) to install a fire suppression system. FEC in turn hired an electrical subcontractor Low Voltage Building Technologies, Inc. (LVBT) to install the wiring.
Finazzo’s job as a security guard included letting the contractors into the locked computer room and to monitoring the workers to keep the equipment and data secure. As people came in and out of the room, Finazzo warned the ITC employees of the construction taking place.
While LVBT was completing the project on the worksite, its construction workers set out a coil of 40-foot cable on the floor in the computer room. The workers warned Finazzo and the others that the cable was there. But when he went to exit the space, Finazzo stepped on the cable, slipped and fell, injuring himself. He sued the contractors for worksite injuries under premises liability and general negligence theories.
Can You Sue Contractors For Premises Liability Injuries?
The first question for the court was whether the contractors could be sued based on premises liability law at all. Because Finazzo was injured because of a condition of the property – the cable lying on the floor – the court said the lawsuit was based on a premises liability claim. That meant that the proper person to sue is the one in possession and control of the property.
Normally, that person is the landowner or the tenant renting the property. This is the person “normally best able to prevent any harm to others.” However, premises liability isn’t a matter of who owns the title. Partial possession and control can be “loaned” to another person, like a contractor, as it is needed to get the contracted-for work done. When that happens, it is the contractor who has a duty to make the worksite safe for others using the property.
Contractors Have Access To Open And Obvious Defenses To Premises Liability
Just because the contractors were the right parties to sue doesn’t mean Finazzo was automatically entitled to compensation for his injuries. In many premises liability cases, the injured plaintiff will face an “open and obvious” defense. This says that while the injury was the result of some unsafe condition of the property, that condition was openly visible and obviously risky to a normal person. In those cases, the person injured can only be compensated if the open and obvious hazard is especially dangerous for some reason or entirely unavoidable.
The Court of Appeals said those same defenses apply to contractors:
“[W]hile making changes to the property on behalf of its owner/possessor ITC, defendants are ‘subject to the same liability, and enjoy the same freedom from liability, as though [they] were the possessor[s] of the land.’”
That freedom from liability is what kept Finazzo from collecting damages on his premises liability lawsuit. The court said the contractors could raise an open and obvious defense to his claims. Because LVBT warned Finazzo that the cable was there, and it could be easily avoided by walking over it, it was Finazzo’s carelessness and not the contractors’ negligence that caused his worksite injury.
Winning a premises liability lawsuit isn’t easy. It requires careful attention to detail and a legal team that knows how to get around defenses like the “open and obvious” doctrine. It all starts with knowing who to sue and what legal theory to use, including pursuing contractors for worksite injuries under premises liability.
The Cronin Law Firm has experienced attorneys to aid with whatever legal issue you’re facing. If you have been injured in a worksite accident, contact The Cronin Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.