Participants in construction NEED to have safety programs and protocols. Many contractors do in order to minimize injury and prevent death and many even employ a safety officer on their projects. Safety protocols are also important to ensure compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) health and safety regulations. Safety programs and common contractual provisions require parties to keep their work environment clean and without debris. For example, section 3.15.1 of the AIA A201 General Conditions (2007) provides:
“The Contractor shall keep the premises and surrounding area free from accumulation of waste materials or rubbish caused by operations under the Contract. At completion of the Work, the Contractor shall remove waste materials, rubbish, the Contractor’s tools, construction equipment, machinery and surplus materials from and about the Project.”
Safety programs are not only important for contractors and subcontractors, but also for those invitees that are invited to the construction project. The case of Skala v. Lyons Heritage Corp., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2485b (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), exemplifies what can happen if an invitee of a general contractor gets injured from construction debris. In this case, the general contractor on an ongoing residential project was interested in hiring a new tile installer for the project. There was an issue with the performance of the original tile installer. The new tile installer was asked to inspect the installed tile work in order to provide an estimate as to what it would cost to fix and complete the work. A contract was not executed and there was no confirmation that a price would even be reached. During the inspection, the new tile installer tripped and fell on known and obvious construction debris while entering the house and suffered fractures in both of this arms. The new tile installer sued the general contractor for negligence asserting that the contractor failed to maintain the premises in a safe condition. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the general contractor.
On appeal, the Second District found that the new tile installer was a business invitee (i.e., a person invited to property by the possessor of the property)–”because Mr. Skala [new tile installer] was a business invitee on the property, Lyons Heritage [general contractor], as the possessor of the premises, owed him a duty, as a matter of law, to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Skala, supra (internal quotation omitted).
The general contractor, however, would not be liable for injuries caused by known or obvious dangers, such as the known and obvious construction debris, unless it should have anticipated the injuries despite the known or obvious nature of the dangers. This is referred to as the obvious nature doctrine: “The obvious danger doctrine provides that an owner or possessor of land is not liable for injuries to an invitee caused by a dangerous condition on the premises when the danger is known or obvious to the injured party, unless the owner or possessor should anticipate the harm despite the fact that the dangerous condition is open and obvious.” Skala, supra, quoting DeCruz-Haymer v. Festival Food Mkt., Inc., 117 So. 3d 885, 888 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). Stated differently, the possessor of the property can be held liable for the obvious dangerous condition if he can reasonably foresee that the condition will cause harm and will be encountered by the invitee. Id. quoting Ahl v. Stone Sw., Inc., 666 So. 2d 922, 925 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) (“A reasonable probability to expect harm to an invitee from known and obvious dangers may arise . . . if the landowner may expect that the invitee will encounter the known or obvious danger, because, to a reasonable person in the invitee’s position, the advantages of [facing the danger] would outweigh the apparent risk.”)
The Second District reversed the summary judgment finding an issue of fact existed as to whether the exception to the obvious danger doctrine applied, that being that the general contractor should have anticipated that the new tile installer would encounter the known and obvious construction debris because, to a reasonable person in the installer’s position, the advantages of facing the construction debris would outweigh the risk.
If the construction debris was not known and obvious to the new tile installer, the general contractor would have also been sued in negligence under a theory that it breached its duty of warning the new tile installer of a latent dangerous condition. See Skala, supra, n. 3 (finding that the general contractor had the duty to warn the new tile installer / invitee of latent dangerous conditions).
This case illustrates one example of the importance of safety. Safety programs should not be taken lightly! Sometimes, with business invitees, it is good practice to have them provide a release before they enter the property to the owner, contractor, and applicable parties.
As an aside, the Concrete Construction Magazine in November 2013 tweeted an interesting 2010 statistic from the United States Department of Labor (the OSHA agency falls within the Department of Labor) itemizing the most common OSHA violations in 2010 were for scaffolding, fall protection, stairways and ladders, personal protective equipment, electrical, health hazards, general provisions, and trenching.
Please contact David Adelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.