Articles Tagged with Construction site accidents

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collection-of-construction-safety-helmet-38070-300x197The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued a decision following a petition from review from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District. The court was tasked with determining whether a general contractor on a construction project owed a duty of care to a subcontractor’s employee who suffered injuries on the job. The general contractor hired a subcontractor to erect a concrete tower. The victim, an employee of the subcontractor, suffered injuries when the tower detached and fell on his legs. The victim filed a lawsuit against the general contractor alleging negligence and gross negligence. He argued that the defendant had contractual and actual control over the subcontractor’s work and thus owed the victim a duty of care. The trial court found in the defendant’s favor, and the court of appeals reversed.

On petition to the Supreme Court of Texas, the defendant argued that it did not owe the victim a duty of care. Generally, under Texas law, an entity that employs an independent contractor does not maintain a duty to ensure that the subcontractor performs its work safely. However, an exception applies when the contractor maintains some level of control over the way the contractor performs the work that caused the damage. The element of control must relate to the activity or condition that caused the injury. Further, the control must extend to the “means, methods, or details” of the independent subcontractor’s work.

In this case, the defendant argued that it did not have actual control over the subcontractor. It cited testimony where the subcontractor’s superintendent stated that the contractor did not instruct any of the subcontractor’s employees and no one from the contracting company told him how to install the tower or its braces. In response, the plaintiff argued that the contracting company asserted actual control by having someone on-site every day to inspect for safety. Additionally, someone from the company was there to inspect on the day of the accident, and the company was aware that the towers were not appropriately braced for wind. However, the court found no evidence that the contracting company exercised control over the subcontractor’s work. Further, the court reasoned that the courts have not recognized the presence of a safety employee as enough to give rise to actual control.

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collection-of-construction-safety-helmet-38070-300x197The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued an opinion in a case involving a property owner’s liability for injuries an employee contractor sustained while working on the property. The case arose when the two construction workers suffered injuries while working on a condominium project owned by the defendant. The defendant hired an individual instead of a general contractor to manage the project. A high-voltage power line hung behind the property, and the defendants told the project manager about the line because it was “too close” to the building. The project manager advised the plaintiffs to begin the project even though the power line was still intact. While working on the project, electricity shot down the rebar, and the power line snapped, causing the workers to suffer burns and other serious injuries.

The workers filed a negligence lawsuit against the power company and the defendants. The trial court entered a judgment per a jury finding that the property owner was liable under ordinary-negligence and premises-liability theories.

The defendant appealed, arguing that the employee’s evidence was not legally sufficient under Chapter 95. In response, the plaintiffs argued that the Chapter does not apply, the defendant waived some arguments, and the evidence was legally sufficient. Amongst several issues, the defendant argued that they could not be held liable because the danger was open and obvious. Under Texas law, a danger is open and obvious when the invitee possesses “knowledge and full appreciation” of the hazard’s extent and nature. Typically, when the danger is open and obvious, the property owner does not maintain a duty to warn of the danger or make the premises safe. Inquiries regarding whether a danger is open and obvious are not subjective but rather what a reasonably prudent person would have known. Courts will look to the totality of the “particular circumstances.”

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collection-of-construction-safety-helmet-38070-300x197Recently, the Supreme Court of Texas issued a decision in a lawsuit stemming from injuries an employee suffered at his workplace. The case arose when a general contractor subcontracted with the defendant to drill a foundation for a commercial construction project. The plaintiff was working as a lead superintendent for the project. On the day of the incident, the subcontractor’s crew began working on a new piling without sufficient grout, contrary to the company’s policy. The defendant’s foreman told the crane operator to rock the auger back and forth to free it from the solidifying grout. After several minutes the foreman told the operator to stop, as it posed a danger. However, the subcontractor’s superintendent overrode the foreman’s instructions and told him to continue. Despite concern that the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous, the subcontractor demanded that the operator continue. As a result, some of the crane’s rollers came off and crushed the plaintiff’s legs, ultimately requiring amputation of his legs.

The plaintiff received workers’ compensation and subsequently filed a lawsuit against the subcontractor for negligence and gross negligence, arguing that the subcontractor waived its exclusive remedy defense. Later the plaintiff amended his complaint, contending that the subcontractor intentionally injured the plaintiff.

In Texas, the Workers’ Compensation Act, (the Act) is the exclusive remedy for eligible employees who seek compensation for work-related injuries. This provision provides medical and disability benefits without considering the fault of either the employer or employee. The Act does not allow lawsuits for an employer’s grossly negligent behavior unless the conduct results in a fatal injury. However, an exception to the bar on lawsuits exists when an employer commits an intentional tort. In order to satisfy the exception, the plaintiff must establish that the employer “believed that its actions are substantially certain to result” in a specific injury to a specific employee, not “merely highly likely to increase the overall risks to employees in the workplace.”

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