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Justices rule on construction manager's duty for jobsite safety

March 22, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a construction manager on the Lucas Oil Stadium construction project didn’t have a legal duty to ensure jobsite safety to a subcontractor’s employee either by contract or individual actions, and as a result, cannot be held liable for workplace negligence.

In Hunt Construction Group, Inc., and Mezzetta Construction, Inc. v. Shannon D. Garrett, No. 49S02-1106-CT-365, the justices voted 4-1 to reverse a ruling by Marion Superior Judge David Shaheed that was in favor of Shannon Garrett.

Garrett was working for a concrete company when a coworker dropped a piece of wood that struck her and injured her head and left hand. Shaheed found that the construction manager, Hunt Construction Group, could be held vicariously liable for the actions of her employer, Baker Concrete, because Hunt was in charge of the jobsite. The Court of Appeals held that Hunt was not vicariously liable to Garrett for any negligence on her employer’s part because the two didn’t have the required relationship.

The Supreme Court’s majority relied on Plan-Tec, Inc. v. Wiggins, 443 N.E.2d 1212 (Ind. Ct. App. 1983), as a durable template for resolving these workplace safety issues. Justice Frank Sullivan wrote that for a construction manager to not otherwise be obligated by contract to provide jobsite safety but to be legally bound to provide that care and safety goes beyond what a contract dictates. In this case, Hunt did not undertake any such responsibilities for the project that Garrett was working and can’t be held liable in that way.

Sullivan also wrote that Hunt didn’t assume by its actions on the site any legal duty for that workplace safety, unlike in Plan-Tec, where the construction manager did take on additional jobsite responsibilities beyond the contract.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented, believing that material issues of fact exist about the construction manager’s duty of care and summary judgment is precluded for both parties.

The case is remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

 

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