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Judges split on construction manager's duty to injured worker

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues’ majority holding, finding their ruling would “fundamentally alter contracts” dealing with safety on jobsites.

In The Hunt Construction Group, Inc., et al. v. Shannon D. Garrett, No. 49A02-1001-CT-86, The Hunt Construction Group appealed partial summary judgment in favor of Shannon Garrett on her vicarious liability claim and the denial of summary judgment for the construction company regarding its duty to Garrett. Garrett, an employee of Baker Concrete, was injured while working on Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Hunt Construction was hired by the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority to be the construction manager on the project. Hunt didn’t enter into a contract with Baker Concrete or other contractors.

The appellate panel agreed that the trial court erred in finding Hunt Construction was vicariously liable for the negligence of Baker Concrete. The trial court based its ruling on Garrett’s argument that Hunt Construction owed her a nondelegable duty – where a principal is by law or contract charged with performing the specific duty. Vicarious liability has generally been applied in the general contractor/subcontractor relationship in construction litigation cases, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. That general relationship doesn’t exist in this case as the ISCBA contracted separately with Hunt Construction and Baker Concrete.

But the judges were divided on whether Hunt Construction owed a duty to Garrett. The majority, after examining the contracts Hunt Construction entered into, found that many provisions gave the company significant duties regarding safety on the jobsite. It was responsible for approving contractors' safety programs, addressing safety violations, and had the ability to remove any employee or piece of equipment deemed unsafe. These provisions resulted in Hunt Construction assuming a duty to workers on the jobsite, including Garrett.

Judge Ezra Friedlander dissented on this matter, believing the majority disregarded the provisions that limited Hunt Construction’s duties regarding safety. His reading of the contract language as a whole clearly shows Hunt Construction didn’t assume a duty to Garrett by contract, he wrote. There are several limiting provisions, which are an unequivocal statement that the construction company wasn’t responsible for project safety and the safety of Baker Concrete’s employees.

“The Majority wholly ignores the clear import of these provisions and fails to give them effect, essentially rendering them ineffective and meaningless,” he wrote. “The Majority’s holding will fundamentally alter contracts of this nature and make it virtually impossible for a contractor taking on the role of construction manager to limit its liability so as not to become an insurer of safety for workers of other contractors.”

Imposing a duty of care on Hunt Construction for the safety of the employees of each contractor here is tantamount to making it an insurer of safety. The majority’s construction of the contractual provisions at issue undermines the framework often used in projects like this, he wrote.

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  • shame on them
    who stand up the working class,watching big corperate company play pass the buck (so to speak)shame on them.This is a person,doesn't her while-being matter. Our justice system needs to take a stand and stop allowing companies it away with this. One day it could be one of their family member in this

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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