In Maldonado v. Sumeer Homes, the plaintiff appealed from three summary judgments in a personal injury action. The case arose from injuries the plaintiff suffered while working as a sheetrock installer on stilts during Sumeer Homes’ construction of a home. He tripped and fell on a stack of sheetrock. The plaintiff was working for Arturo Galvan, who’d been hired by a drywall subcontractor, who was in turn working for Sumeer Homes. The sheetrock was delivered and stacked by Moises Aguilar.
After the accident, the plaintiff sued the builders and Arturo Galvan for negligence and gross negligence. He alleged that the sheetrock had been placed negligently and that the defendants failed to warn of the danger. He also alleged that he was told to work on stilts, even though the sheetrock was negligently placed on the ground, and that all the defendants were responsible for supervising and keeping safe the workers on the job.
The builders moved for summary judgment. They challenged the breach of duty and proximate cause aspects of the plaintiff’s claims. They also argued that he had no evidence that they violated a statute for his negligence per se claim, among other things, and all three motions were granted. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, Maldonado argued that the lower court should have found he produced evidence that the builders owed a duty to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work, and that they breached this duty and proximately caused his fall and injuries. He argued that his injury was the result of either a premises defect or an activity that the builders controlled, at least to some extent.
The appellate court explained that the elements of negligence are: (1) a duty owed by one party to another, (2) a breach of duty, and (3) damages proximately caused by the breach. A premises liability case must also establish a duty, but the nature of the duty owed depends on the plaintiff’s status. In order to prevail, the plaintiff would have to prove that a property condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm.
The builders argued that the plaintiff had no evidence of breach or causation. The court explained that the plaintiff had to establish breach of duty by showing that the builders had acted in a way that a reasonable person exercising ordinary prudence wouldn’t have done under the same circumstances. The court also explained that to establish proximate cause, the plaintiff would have to show both “cause in fact” and foreseeability, establishing that the defendants’ acts or omissions were substantial factors in causing the injury, and without them, the harm wouldn’t have happened.
The appellate court explained that all of the negligence claims arose out of the negligent placement of sheetrock and failure to supervise. The court concluded that there was no evidence that the way the sheetrock was placed or a failure to supervise were breaches that proximately (legally) caused his injuries. Instead, the plaintiff had focused on whether the builders owed him a duty, and whether the sheetrock counted as a defective or dangerous condition. He testified that after working less than an hour, he’d attempted to turn and knocked into a stack of sheetrock. Other testimony showed he had room to walk around the sheetrock and had been doing so for an hour before falling. There was no evidence that sheetrock shouldn’t have been placed in the kitchen or that the area was otherwise unsafe. His own safety expert had offered the opinion that his stilts got caught or slipped.
The court further ruled that since he failed to prove negligence, the builders were also entitled to summary judgment on the gross negligence claim and affirmed the lower court’s judgment.
If you’re hurt in a construction accident, the experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to help you recover compensation for your injuries. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.