In a favorable ruling for general contractors and construction managers operating in Illinois, the First District Appellate Court issued a recent opinion that limits the application of contract language. The ruling will enable general contractors and construction managers to remove themselves as defendants in personal injury actions where they don't control means and methods of a subcontractor’s work. The ruling affirmed summary judgment on behalf of Johnson & Bell, Ltd.’s client, a general contractor.
“This is a major, positive development for general contractors,” states Joseph F. Spitzzeri, a shareholder at Johnson & Bell, Ltd. and co-chair of the firm’s Construction Practice Group. “This ruling puts more responsibility on the shoulders of subcontractors for the maintenance and safety of their personnel in their respective work areas. Now, general contractors no longer should be the ‘catch-all’ defendant for every personal injury occurring on a construction site.”
In October 2012, the trial court entered summary judgment for Johnson & Bell’s client, the general contractor, in a personal injury action filed by an employee of a drywall subcontractor, who tripped and fell on electrical pipe lying on the floor of a hallway. The general contractor argued that although it had general supervisory authority, it did not exercise this authority and did not retain control over incidental aspects of the electrical subcontractor’s work so as to be responsible for the discarded electrical pipe.
Testimony of the electrical subcontractor’s employees confirmed that it was responsible for cleaning up its own debris and, most importantly, that it controlled the means and methods of its own work during construction of the building.
In its summary judgment order, the trial court found that the general contractor did not owe the plaintiff a duty under section 414 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965) because the general contractor did not control the means and methods or operative details of the subcontractor’s work.
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