Massachusetts Court Discusses an Employer’s Liability for Harm Caused by an Independent Contractor

In Massachusetts, if an employee suffers an injury in the workplace, the employee is typically limited to pursuing a workers’ compensation claim to recover compensation for his or her harm. If the person that suffers an injury while working is not an employee, however, he or she may be able to pursue a claim for damages if the injury was caused by another person’s negligence. As explained in a recent Massachusetts case, though, a person that employs an independent contractor generally cannot be held liable for injuries caused by the negligent acts of the contractor. If you suffered harm due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to pursue a claim for damages and should consult a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your harm.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant homeowner hired a general contractor to perform renovations on her home. In turn, the general contractor hired the plaintiff, a subcontractor, to assist with the project. During the project, the plaintiff severed his thumb while using a table saw he owned. The plaintiff then filed a negligence claim against the defendant, arguing she negligently caused his injury by failing to provide a safe construction area. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiff appealed, and on appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Employer Liability for Harm Caused by an Independent Contractor

In part, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s harm because the defendant retained control over the project. Generally, a person that employs an independent contractor will not be deemed liable for any harm negligently caused by the independent contractor. In other words, the independent contractor’s work should be considered his or her own enterprise, and the independent contractor should be charged with the duty of preventing harm to others.

There is an exception to the general rule, however, for cases in which the employer retains the right to control any aspect of the independent contractor’s work, including the right to institute and maintain safety programs and measures. In such instances, the employer must exercise control over the work with reasonable care, and if the employer fails to do so, he or she can be held liable for any harm caused by the failure. To be deemed liable, though, the employer must retain some degree of care over the manner in which the work is done.

In the subject case, the appellate court noted that the construction contract specifically allocated the responsibility for maintaining safety measures to the general contractor. Additionally, pursuant to the contract, the general contractor had to perform all of the work, furnish all of the materials, and was responsible for the ultimate completion of the contract. Thus, the court found that there was no evidence of record to support the assertion that the defendant retained control of the project as needed to impose liability.

Speak to an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered an injury while working, you may be able to pursue a claim for damages and should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the skills and resources needed to help you seek the best result available under the facts of your case and we will diligently pursue any compensation you may be owed. You can contact us at 508-822-6600 or through the form online to schedule a consultation.