Maryland Plaintiffs Win Lawsuit Against General Contractor for Guardrail Failure That Caused Fall

In many personal injury cases, the plaintiffs seek compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses caused by the careless acts of another person or business.  In an important decision issued on May 31, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a jury verdict that found in favor of the plaintiffs on their negligence claim against the general contractor that built their home.  The plaintiff in the case was injured after a safety guardrail in his home failed, causing him to fall 12 to 13 feet onto the concrete below.

After a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $1,306,700 in damages, which was reduced by the statutory cap on noneconomic damages.  The defendant subsequently appealed the verdict.  On appeal, one of the defendant’s primary arguments was that it owed no duty to the plaintiffs to ensure the proper construction of the guardrail because the responsibility for its construction had been delegated to its sub-contractor.

In general, Maryland follows the rule that the employer of an independent contractor is not liable for physical harm caused to another party by an act or omission of the contractor or its employees.  However, there are many exceptions to this rule, most of which fall into three categories:  (1) negligence of the employer in selecting or supervising the contractor; (2) non-delegable duties of the employer; and (3) inherently dangerous work.

The overarching issue for the court was whether a general contractor may be held liable for an injury caused by the negligence of sub-contractors stemming from a violation of the building code.  After reviewing Maryland case law, the court concluded that when, as in the case here, there is a violation of a provision of a building code that was intended as a safety measure, and when that violation has produced death or injuries, the duty imposed by the building code is non-delegable. As a result, the general contractor responsible for the construction of the plaintiffs’ home bore a statutory duty to provide specified safeguards or precautions.  The court ruled that the defendant was therefore subject to liability to the plaintiffs for harm caused by the failure of its employee to provide such safeguards.

The court further rejected the defendant’s contention that its duty was extinguished as a matter of law due to the passage of time, since the home was built over seven years before the accident.  The court pointed to the 10-year statute of repose that applies to claims against contractors for defective and unsafe improvements to real property, as well as the defendant’s right to argue the issue of contributory negligence and assumption of risk.

The court’s holding will have a broader effect on future premises liability claims.  After the adoption of this rule, a general contractor may be held liable for harm caused by its employee sub-contractor when evidence is presented to demonstrate that the sub-contractor violated the building code, and the provisions of the building code alleged to have been violated were intended as safety measures.  In turn, plaintiffs may pursue legal recourse against the general contractor.

At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A., our dedicated attorneys represent plaintiffs in lawsuits against the parties responsible for their injuries.  We can provide legal guidance after faulty medical treatment, a premises liability accident, a car or motorcycle crash, or other injuries caused by the careless actions of businesses and individuals.  To schedule an appointment with an experienced lawyer at Foran & Foran, P.A., call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Proceed in Lead Paint Lawsuit Against Property Owner, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 20, 2016

Maryland Jury Finds Defendant Not Cause of Collision Between Plaintiff and Parked Vehicle, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 12, 2016

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