In Brown v. City of Oil City, No. 6 WAP 2022, 2023 Pa. LEXIS 681 (2023), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (Supreme Court) recently held that a contractor can be liable for dangerous conditions it creates even if the hazard is obvious or known by the property owner. In City of Oil City, the City of Oil City (Oil City) contracted with Harold Best and Struxures, LLC and Fred Burns, Inc. (collectively Contractors) to reconstruct the concrete stairs to the city library. Contractors completed their work at the end of 2011. In early 2012, Oil City received reports of issues with the stairs. Oil City notified Contractors that it considered the stairs dangerous and that Contractors’ defective workmanship created the condition. Neither Oil City or Contractors took any action to fix the stairs or warn of the danger and the stairs’ condition worsened with time. Continue reading
In United States Automatic Sprinkler Corporation v. Erie Insurance Exchange, et al., No. 2SS-CT-264, 2023 Ind. LEXIS 105, the Supreme Court of Indiana (Supreme Court) reversed an order of the trial court that denied a motion for summary judgment filed by a sprinkler contractor. At issue was whether commercial tenants – one who contracted with the sprinkler contractor and others who did not – could recover for their respective property damages. The court held that under the contract’s subrogation waiver and agreement to insure, the contracting tenant waived its insurer’s rights to recover through subrogation. With respect to the non-contracting tenants, who sought to recover only property damages, the court held that the absence of contractual privity barred their recovery.
The case centered around a sprinkler system that malfunctioned and flooded the Sycamore Springs Office Complex (Landlord), causing extensive property damage to four commercial tenants. Surgery Center, one of the four tenants, requested permission from the Landlord to install a sprinkler system inside the building. Landlord agreed, in exchange for Surgery Center agreeing to be solely responsible for maintaining the sprinkler system. Surgery Center hired United States Automatic Sprinkler (Automatic Sprinkler) to both install and conduct periodic inspection and testing of the sprinkler system. The contract terms outlined the scope of work to be performed by Automatic Sprinkler and the work was limited to the inspection and testing of the sprinkler system. Although repairs and emergency services were excluded from the contract, each could be performed upon the request and authorization of Surgery Center for an additional cost. The contract also contained certain risk allocation provisions including a waiver of subrogation and an agreement to insure.
In Allstate Veh. & Prop. Ins. Co. v. Glitz Constr. Corp., 2023 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 1180, 2023 NY Slip Op 01171, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department (Appellate Court), considered whether a contractor could be found liable for its subcontractor’s alleged negligence in causing injury to a homeowner’s property. The homeowner’s insurer, as subrogee of the homeowner, sought to recover damages from the contractor despite an allegation that the subcontractor – an independent contractor – caused the injury to the homeowner’s property. Finding that there was no evidence that any of the exceptions to the non-liability rule related to hiring independent contractors applied, the Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s decision granting judgment in favor of the contractor.
In this case, the homeowner hired the contractor (defendant) to convert her garage area into a bedroom and an office. The defendant later hired a subcontractor to perform the electrical rough-in work. At trial, the homeowner’s insurer (plaintiff) presented evidence that the subcontractor, who damaged an existing wire with a drill bit, caused an electrical failure that resulted in a fire. The defendant argued that it could not be held liable for the subcontractor’s alleged negligence because the subcontractor was an independent contractor and, on appeal, the Appellate Court agreed.
Property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to avoid causing harm to neighboring properties. In Steamfitters Local Union No. 602 v. Erie Ins. Exch., 2020 Md. LEXIS 347 (July 27, 2020) (Steamfitters Local), a matter originally discussed in a June 2019 blog post, the Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed that, where the property owner knows or should have known that people are habitually discarding hundreds of cigarette butts into a mulch bed along the boundary of the neighboring property, the property owner owes a duty to its neighbors to prevent the risk of fire. Continue reading
Foreseeability is a tort concept that tends to permeate several aspects of legal analysis, often causing confusion in litigants’ interpretation of, and courts’ application of, foreseeability to their cases. In Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Progress Rail Services. Corp., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73967 (C.D. Ill.), the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois took on the task of analyzing a case dealing with foreseeability issues to determine if the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty and if the damages were so remote as to violate public policy. The court held that since the defendant’s actions contributed to the risk of harm to the plaintiff and the facts satisfied the four-prong duty test, the defendant owed the plaintiff’s subrogor a duty of reasonable care. It also held that the plaintiff’s damage claim did not open the defendant up to liability that would violate public policy. Continue reading
Property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to avoid causing harm to neighboring properties. When a property owner knows or should know about a condition that poses a risk of danger to neighboring properties, the property owner must exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently held that, where hundreds of discarded cigarette butts had accumulated in a bed of mulch over an extended period of time prior to the fire at issue, the owner of the property with the mulch beds owed a duty of care to its neighbors to prevent a foreseeable fire. Continue reading