Federal District Court in Massachusetts Denies Summary Judgment to General Contractor Following Injury by Allegedly Defective Tool

Typically, a worker who is hurt on the job is limited to benefits available to him or her under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. However, there are a few limited circumstances under which a third party may be liable in tort for the employee’s injuries.

One of these circumstances arises when a defective product was to blame for the worker’s injuries. Additionally, in some cases, the general contractor on a construction project may also be liable for the injuries of a subcontractor’s employee.

Of course, liability is never automatic, and these defendants – like most defendants who are facing the payout of a substantial verdict due to another person’s injuries – usually fight hard against a finding that they are legally responsible.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was an iron worker who was injured due to an allegedly malfunctioning powder-actuated tool made by one of the defendants (“the manufacturer”). At the time of his injury, the worker was employed by a subcontractor on a construction project at a state university. The worker, joined by his wife, filed suit against the manufacturer and the distributor of the allegedly defective product, along with the general contractor on the construction project.

With respect to the general contractor, the worker alleged that it was negligent in the management of the construction project, injury prevention protocols, training procedures, and furnishing of equipment and that this negligence proximately caused his injuries and his wife’s loss of consortium.

After the lawsuit was removed to federal court based on diversity of citizenship, the manufacturer and the general contractor filed cross-claims against each other. Thereafter, the general contractor filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims pending against it.

Decision of the Court

The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied the general contractor’s motion for summary judgment. The court first reiterated Massachusetts law with respect to a general contractor’s liability for injuries suffered by a subcontractor’s employee. If the general contractor retains the right to control the work (including safety measures), it must exercise that control with reasonable care, and it is liable for damages caused by its failure to do so. Generally, this is a fact-based inquiry that belongs to the jury unless the undisputed facts show that there was an absence of any meaningful control.

Since the court found that the undisputed facts in the current case did not demonstrate such an absence of control, the court determined that summary judgment for the general contractor was not appropriate. According to the court, “sufficient disputed facts” required that the jury try the issue of whether the general contractor retained control of the project, such that it owed a duty to the plaintiff. In so holding, the court rejected the general contractor’s argument that expert testimony was required to establish a causal link between its allegedly negligent supervision and the plaintiff’s injury from the supposedly faulty tool.

Speak with an Experienced Attorney About Your Legal Matter

If you have been hurt on the job due to a faulty piece of equipment or tool, you should talk to a lawyer about the possibility of filing a product liability lawsuit or another third-party action. The knowledgeable construction and worksite accident attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help. For a free consultation in our Hyannis or Plymouth offices, call us at (888) 262-6664. Since the statute of limitations and statute of repose limit the time for filing certain claims, please do not delay in seeking counsel, lest your claim be dismissed as untimely.

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