U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals Reviews Massachusetts Home Renovation Injury

When injuries happen, the costs can quickly add up. Negotiating and litigating for the maximum amount of compensation possible is the responsibility of your Massachusetts personal injury attorney. Payments, however, can get complicated legally as parties seek money from insurance companies or partial responsibility and liability from other entities. In U.S. Liability Ins. Co. v. Benchmark Construction Services, Inc. (No. 14-1832), the court reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court in favor of the insurance company, concluding that the vague indemnity clause should be read in favor of the insured, which is the general contractor in this case.

The case stems from a home renovation accident. The homeowners hired a general contractor, who then hired an architect to design the renovation plans. This architect hired a painting company to paint one of the interior walls. An employee of the company injured herself after falling off a ladder positioned on top of scaffolding. The injured painting employee sued the general contractor for damages, alleging that they not only owed her a duty of care, but that they were negligent in their placement and maintenance of the ladder and scaffolding. The general contractor looked to their insurance company to indemnify them, but the insurance company refused, claiming that they did not have a duty to defend them in a claim involving a contractor, or non-employee, based on its exclusion clause found in the policy.

The Circuit Court pointed out that the term “contractor” was not defined under the policy, but the policy was to cover any accidents involving “bodily injury.” The District Court had previously determined that a contractor was “anyone who held a contract,” so even though she was an employee of the painting company hired by the sub-contracted designer, she fell under the exclusion. The Circuit Court felt otherwise and concluded that she was not someone who worked for the insured and could be reasonably considered to be the type of injured person the policy was designed to cover.

The Circuit Court also rejected the broad definition of “contractor” and looked to Massachusetts case law, which requires the general contractor to have control over the work and daily activities of the subcontractor. The court felt that a definition that broad would create too much instability for any party that happens to work on a construction or renovation project, causing parties to shirk responsibility by claiming a “contract” was in place. The court reversed and remanded the decision, favoring the defendant general contractor, so the general contractor could now seek the indemnification from their insurance policy to help with payment and litigation.

The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the construction accident experience you or your family member needs. We understand the financial, physical, and emotional hardships one faces after a serious injury, and we can work tirelessly to maximize the damages that you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Keeps Premises Liability Case Law Favorable for Injured Individuals, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 26, 2015
The Path to Damages after a Massachusetts Car Accident Can be a Complex, Winding One, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 22, 2015