Today’s guest post is written by Joe Hardesty, who handles complex litigation in construction and business disputes. He has defended and prosecuted claims for clients arising from major construction projects throughout the country, surety disputes, commercial real estate disputes and a variety of disputes arising from business transactions. He also advises clients on matters related to government contracting and compliance.
Does a construction manager have a duty of care to employees of contractors and subcontractors to provide a safe project site? This was the question that the Indiana Supreme Court addressed in its opinion issued on March 22, 2012, in the case of Hunt Construction Group, Inc. v. Garrett.
The Facts. Hunt was the construction manager agent for the construction of the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and had contracted with the owner, the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority. Baker Concrete Construction, Inc. had also entered a contract with the Stadium Authority to perform concrete work on the stadium. Shannon Garrett, an employee of Baker, was injured while removing forming material from concrete. Garrett pursued a workers compensation claim against her employer, Baker, but also sued Hunt, the construction manager, for negligence in not providing a safe job site.
The Opinion. The Indiana Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a construction manager has a legal duty of care for job site safety to employees of contractors and subcontractors. The Court held that a construction manager has a legal duty of care to workers on the job site for job safety in only two circumstances: (1) when such a duty is imposed on the construction manager by a contract to which it is a party; or (2) when the construction manager assumes such a duty, even gratuitously or voluntarily.
In this case, the Court found that there were no provisions in the construction manager’s contract under which Hunt contractually accepted the duty to maintain safety on the project. The Court noted that the contract provided that the contractors, not the construction manager, have the responsibility for project safety and the safety of their employees. The Court found no safety provisions in Hunt’s contract that imposed any specific legal duty to or responsibility for the safety of all employees on the construction site. Therefore, the Court held that Hunt’s contract did not create a duty to employees for job site safety and that Hunt’s only responsibilities for safety were owed to the Stadium Authority.
The Court next considered whether Hunt had assumed a legal duty for job site safety through its conduct beyond that required by its contract. The Court stated that a construction manager could be responsible for job site safety to individual employees where it specifically agrees to take on specific safety responsibilities beyond those set forth in its contract. Examples of such conduct are appointing a safety director, initiating weekly safety meetings, directing that certain safety precautions be taken and inspecting the job site for safety. Garrett argued that the fact that Hunt’s safety representative conducted safety committee meetings every Monday and inspected the site daily for violations of the project safety program demonstrated that Hunt had assumed responsibility for job site safety and owed a duty to workers for job site safety. The Court found that these activities were activities required by Hunt’s contract with the owner and, therefore, these were not additional duties voluntarily assumed by Hunt to job site workers. Hence, the Court found that Hunt did not assume specific supervisory responsibilities for job site safety beyond those set forth in its contract and, therefore, there was no duty owed by Hunt to Garrett or other workers for job site safety.
Lessons Learned. This case focused only on the issue of whether a construction manager owes a duty to workers for job site safety such that individual workers would have a claim against the construction manager. It found that a construction manager’s duty for job site safety is normally only owed to the owner rather than to individual employees of contractors and subcontractors. Construction Managers should note, however, this case did not address what liabilities a construction manager might incur to OSHA for job site injuries. Construction managers must assess not only its duties to owners and workers for job site safety but also its legal obligations under OSHA.