If a homeowner decides to hire a contractor to renovate a house, can one of the contracted workers sue the homeowner for injuries that happen on the job? In many cases the answer is yes. So, homeowners need to be cognizant of the risk of potential lawsuits when renovating a home.
There are ways for a homeowner to reduce the risk of liability for construction worker injuries. But, in order to do so, the homeowner must have a basic understanding of the legal landscape surrounding injuries to construction workers. In the sections that follow, we'll describe that basic legal landscape by first discussing the liability of a homeowner who keeps little control over the construction project. Then we'll illustrate the liability of a homeowner who exercises a fair amount of control over the construction project.
Liability of a Homeowner who Does not Exercise Control
Often, a homeowner will hire a general contractor to complete a construction project. After reviewing plans and negotiating a price, the homeowner often steps out of the way. The homeowner assumes that the contractor will perform the work properly. The homeowner knows that if the contractor does not complete the work properly, the homeowner will be able to sue for damages under contract law.
In such a situation, the homeowner is required to provide a reasonably safe place to work for the workers. This means that the homeowner must warn the workers of any defects in the property that are not obvious. For example, imagine a homeowner hires workers to paint a house. Due to a crumbling foundation, a worker is injured when a portion of the porch collapses while the worker was standing on it. The worker might be able to sue the homeowner.
On the other hand, imagine the homeowner hired the workers to fix the porch. In such a case, if a worker became injured when the porch collapsed, the worker probably would not be able to sue the owner. The worker should have expected the porch to be dangerous because the owner hired the workers for the purpose of fixing the porch.
Liability of a Homeowner Who Exercises Control
Another homeowner might choose to closely monitor a construction project, even if the homeowner has little or no construction experience. This close monitoring makes sense; the owner has a significant financial and even emotional interest in the project. But from a legal perspective, it may be a mistake. A homeowner who exercises some control over the day-to-day operations of a construction project is more likely to open him or herself up for personal injury liability when it comes to injuries to workers, especially when compared to the homeowner who keeps his or her distance.
As discussed above, a homeowner has an obligation to provide a reasonably safe workplace for the workers. But some courts interpret that obligation differently when a homeowner actively monitors a construction project. If the homeowner gives instructions to the workers about how and when to perform certain work, the homeowner might unknowingly take on an obligation to ensure the overall safety of the workers.
For example, imagine a homeowner instructs some painters that a certain type of scaffold could be used to perform work on a certain portion of a home. If the workers use the scaffold and the scaffold collapses, the homeowner may be liable for the injuries.
This type of liability can exist in situations that many homeowners might not anticipate. For example, while observing some construction work, a homeowner might comment that a worker should really be using fall protection, because the work he is performing could be dangerous. By making that comment, the owner might unwittingly be accepting responsibility for ensuring the overall safety of the workers at the construction site.
Homeowners should note that these rules vary significantly by state. To learn more about the rules of your state, examine the statutes that have been passed by your state legislature or consult a local attorney.