A General Contractor May Be Liable to an Injured Subcontractor

Recently our office has met with individuals who were injured while on the job. The purpose of our meetings were to evaluate their cases, including the facts and circumstances surrounding the accidents and injuries.  Part of our evaluation is to review the obvious workers’ compensation claim, but also to examine the facts in order to determine whether a valid third party personal injury case is also present.

Overview of a Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Case

Generally speaking, when an employee or worker is injured on the job in Massachusetts, he or she is entitled to certain workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits include disability benefits, that replace a portion of injured employees lost wages, and also medical benefits, that will cover the cost and expenses of the medical treatment for the work related injury.

Under the General Laws in Massachusetts, with a few exceptions, an injured worker is precluded by law from suing their employer for the injuries suffered in a work related accident. See M.G.L. c. 152 § 15. This is because the workers’ compensation laws are set up to be the exclusive remedy for work related injuries and require employers to purchase and carry workers’ compensation insurance to protect injured employees.  This doesn’t mean the injured worker cannot sue another negligent party.

Third Party Personal Injury Lawsuits from Work Related Accidents

Under the same law, M.G.L. Chapter 152, Section 15, an injured employee can file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against someone other than their employer, who was responsible for causing the workplace accident and the employee’s injuries. This is called a third party lawsuit. There are many benefits to filing a third party personal injury lawsuit, which are in addition to the workers’ compensation benefits. Also, third party lawsuits offer the injured worker additional damages that are otherwise not available under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. For instance, an injured worker can seek compensation for pain and suffering in a third party personal injury lawsuit, which are not available under workers compensation laws.

Third Party Personal Injury Lawsuits Against General Contractors

In a case we reviewed recently, the injured worker was employed by a subcontractor that was hired and subcontracted to perform certain work on a project. The injured worker sustained serious injuries to his face, including an orbital rim fracture or fractured eye socket. These types of fractures are caused by a direct forcible impact to the face, which often result in extensive injuries. The injury occurred while the employee was using a specific machine on the project that belonged to the general contractor.

Under the Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws, this injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This is pretty clear because the worker was injured while on the job. The next focus is whether there is a third party that was responsible for the accident and injury.

In a situation like this, we are examining the responsibility and liability of the general contractor. In Massachusetts, case law has held that “a general contractor has a duty to its subcontractors’ employees if it retains the right to control the work in any of its aspects, including the right to initiate and maintain safety measures and programs.” Corsetti v. Stone Co, 396 Mass. 1 (1985). The standard adopted in the Corsetti case is that one who entrusts work to an independent contractor, but who retains the control of any part of the work, is subject to liability for physical harm to others for whose safety the employer owes a duty to exercise reasonable care, which is caused by his failure to exercise his control with reasonable care.

Therefore, the inquiry in determining whether a general contractor is liable to the subcontractor’s injured worker is whether the general contractor had sufficient control. Usually, the contracts between the project owner, general contractor and subcontractors are important in determining whether the general contractor had or exercised any control over the project and subcontractor. For example, in the Corsetti case, the contract between the building owner and the general contractor provided that the general contractor was responsible for all safety precautions and conferred general control for the project.

So, the employee who suffered the fractured eye socket may have a valid legal action against the general contractor because the general contractor was responsible for the management of the project and implementing injury-prevention protocols, which were allegedly violated. More specifically, the general contractor allowed the subcontractor’s employee to use a specific machine that the employee was not trained to use and unfamiliar with. This may be a direct breach of the general contractor’s duty to prevent injuries on the work site.   

Injured Workers Should Seek Legal Advice

A worker for a subcontractor, who is injured on a construction or work project, should have his or her case examined by an experienced Massachusetts personal injury lawyer to determine if there is a valid third party personal injury action against the general contractor in addition to their workers’ compensation claim.

Mahaney & Pappas, LLP has represented numerous employees hurt on the job get the compensation they deserve from both workers compensation and from the negligent third party, who is legally responsible for causing the employee’s injuries. We offer free, no-obligation initial meetings and case evaluations. All you have to do is call (508) 879-3500 or contact us online today. Call today and see how we can help you.