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Can Injured Contractors Sue a Property Owner?

Many property owners* fail to understand the duty they owe (or don’t owe) to the employes and laborers of a contractor the property owner hires to perform improvements or other work on real property or buildings.

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THE GENERAL RULE IS THAT PROPERTY OWNERS ARE NOT LIABLE FOR INJURIES TO CONTRACTORS’ EMPLOYEES (BUT THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS).

Generally speaking, injuries suffered by the employees of an independent contractor must look to the contractor for a remedy, and cannot sue the property owner who hired the contractor.

The legal theory behind this is that the contractor–not the property owner–controls the manner in which the work is done, and has responsibility for ensuring his or her workers’ safety. Contractors have an obligation to ensure the work site is safe and that projects are completed in a legal and reasonably safe manner. In addition, workers’ compensation law provides a remedy for injured workers, and the law believes that workers should utilize available remedies like workers’ compensation or the hiring contractor before pursuing other options.

Property owners should note that this rule may hold true even if the worker’s injury resulted from the property owner’s failure to comply with safety requirements–but there are numerous exceptions. If one of these exceptions applies, the injured contractor or employee can seek damages from the property owner.

WHAT ARE THE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE THAT PROPERTY OWNERS ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES TO CONTRACTORS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES?

The legally-recognized exceptions include:

1. The property owner’s failure to warn of a pre-existing dangerous condition on the property or provides the contractor (or employee) with defective equipment.

2. The property owner retains control over the nature, timing and/or manner in which the work is done.

3. The work is “inherently dangerous” in nature.

4. The property owner is under a “nondelegable duty”–meaning that the property owner is legally obligated to fulfill that duty to all third parties–and the contractor fails to carry out the duty, resulting in injury.

WHAT KIND OF NON-DELEGABLE DUTIES MAKE THE PROPERTY OWNER POTENTIALLY LIABLE FOR INJURIES TO CONTRACTORS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES?

The property owner’s non-delegable duties include:

1. The duty to maintain safe premises.

2. The duty to warn of concealed or known pre-existing dangers.

3. Duties imposed by law, or by applicable regulations.Liability is imposed when:

4. The duty to exercise reasonable care in hiring employees or contractors. (Sometimes also referred to as the duty to avoid negligent hiring.)

*Note: all references to “property owners” in this article also apply to “possessors” of property and people in control of property, because the legal duty attaches to persons who “own, possess, or control”–not simply to property owners alone.

People who own, rent, control, or possess real property–either land or rental premises–should maintain and repair the property as needed to mitigate risks to other residents, guests, invitees and others. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Consult an attorney or property specialist to learn about your duties and obligations, and make sure you comply with your legal duties to keep your property safe and well maintained.

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DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Premises liability is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.

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