Personal injuries occurring on construction sites often involve independent contractors, sub-contractors, and their respective employees. Whether a property owner and/or another sub-contractor on site may be held liable for these types of accidents was the question for the Court of Special Appeals in an October 1, 2021 Maryland wrongful death case.
The case involved the tragic death of a young construction worker who was killed when an excavation wall collapsed on the job site. The decedent was the employee of a contractor hired by the City to fix a clogged pipe buried deep in the ground. Although the contractor who employed the decedent was negligent in failing to ensure that the excavation wall was properly supported, legal action against was barred by Maryland workers’ compensation laws. Instead, the decedent’s family filed suit against the City and another sub-contractor working on the site. The plaintiffs claimed that the City was liable for the decedent’s death by failing to hire a qualified contractor to properly and safely do the job, and that the sub-contractor was liable by failing to ensure that the work was performed safely and appropriately.
As a general rule, the employer of an independent contractor is not liable for physical harm caused to another by the acts and omissions of a contractor and the contractor’s employees. The lack of liability is often a major reason one would hire an independent contractor, rather than having one’s own employee do the job. There are many exceptions under Maryland law, however, which were considered by the court on appeal.
On appeal, the plaintiffs urged the court to apply an exception that would subject the City, as an employer of an independent contractor, to liability for injuries to third persons caused by failing to exercise reasonable care to employ a competent and careful contractor to perform work, or to perform any duty which the employer owes to third persons. The plaintiffs argued that the decedent was a “third person” under the exception. The appeals court, however, declined to find that the employee of an independent contractor was included as a third person under that exception. The court explained that the underlying policy of the exception was to protect innocent members of the public, not employees covered by workers’ compensation.
As to the plaintiffs’ claims against the sub-contractor, the court held that the duty owed by a sub-contractor on a construction site to employees of other contractors does not depend on their knowledge of the danger, but on whether the sub-contractor created or controlled the dangerous condition. Insofar as the plaintiffs did not allege that the sub-contractor had created the hazardous condition or controlled the site, they did not have a viable claim against the sub-contractor. Accordingly, the dismissal was affirmed.
If you need legal guidance regarding the accidental death of a loved one, a Maryland personal injury lawyer can assist you. At Foran & Foran, P.A., we are committed to providing trustworthy and compassionate advice to our clients. Request an appointment with an experienced premises liability lawyer by contacting us online or by phone at (301) 441-2022.