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Appeals court sides with estate of contractor killed on the job

December 19, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled an employer was liable for the safety of a subcontractor who fell from a ladder and sustained a fatal injury.

In Capitol Construction Services, Inc. v. Amy Gray, as Personal Rep. of the Estateof Clinton Gray and All One, Inc., No. 49A04-1005-CT-289, the appeals court held that Indiana common law states that employers do not have a duty to supervise the work of an independent contractor to assure a safe workplace and, consequently, employers are not liable for negligence by an independent contractor. But a handful of exceptions apply, and the COA held the trial court did not err in applying one of those exceptions in this case.

Capitol Construction Services hired All One Inc. – the employer of Clinton Gray – as a subcontractor. Gray was testing electrical lines approximatly 15 to 17 feet in the air on a portable ladder when he came in contact with live wires, fell and hit his head on the floor. He died as a result of the fall.

The trial court ruled, and the COA agreed, that per the terms of the contract between Capitol Construction and All One, Capitol had guaranteed to provide fall protection equipment for all workers – employees and subcontractors – when working above the height of six feet. Accordingly, the COA affirmed the trial court’s decision to award summary judgment in favor of Gray’s estate.

Judge Ezra Friedlander agreed but wrote a separate opinion to explain how his affirmation in this opinion is not contrary to his opinion in Hunt Constr. Grp., Inc. v. Garrett, 938 N.E.2d 794 (Friedlander, J., dissenting). Hunt is currently before the Indiana Supreme Court upon the grant of Hunt Construction Group’s petition for transfer.

In Hunt, Friedlander dissented from the majority opinion that Hunt was liable for a worker’s injuries. Hunt was the construction manager on a site where an employee of Baker Concrete was injured, and Friedlander stated that the contract between Hunt and Baker showed Baker would “remain the controlling employer responsible for the safety programs and precautions.”

 

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