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March 01, 2012

Supreme Court Revisits the Retained Control Exception to Rule Against Liability of Property Owner for Negligence of Independent Contractor

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently “retained control” exception to the general rule that a property owner who employs an independent contractor is not liable for injuries to the employees of the independent contractor or its subcontractor. Beil v. Telesis Construction, Inc., 608 Pa. 273, 11 A.3d 456 (2011). In Beil, an employee of a contractor who was performing roofing work fell 30 feet from a scaffold to the ground sustaining severe injuries. After trial, a jury awarded almost $7 million dollars in damages against the contractor and the property owner. The property owner appealed to the Superior Court, who entered judgment in the owner’s favor. The Plaintiff brought the case before the Supreme Court.

Plaintiff argued to the Supreme Court that the property owner retained control of the work of the contractor because the owner controlled certain aspects of safety matters at the site and also regulated access to portions of the building where the work was ongoing. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the owner, holding that even though a property owner may exercise authority regarding safety and may regulate access to, and use of, certain areas of the premises, such actions do not amount to conduct which constitutes control of the manner of the performance of the work as contemplated by the exception to non-liability.

What It Means to You

This opinion is helpful for those defending premise owners in both construction litigation and in premise liability cases. The opinion turns on the fundamental concept in premise liability that the party who has possession and control, rather than ownership, owes the duty of care to those who enter the premises. The Beil case stands for the proposition that a premises owner’s exercise of authority regarding safety of the worksite and access to the premises is not tantamount to control, i.e. the manner and operative detail of the work being performed by the contractor.

Sources

Beil v. Telesis Construction, Inc., 608 Pa. 273, 11 A.3d 456 (2011)