The principle of "no-fault" workers' compensation has been in existence in the United States for over 90 years. A worker gets the right to receive workers' compensation even if an accident is the worker's fault. The injured worker gives up the right to sue their employer even if the accident is the employer's fault. Most States allow for some type of employer liability if gross, willful, criminal, intentional or deliberate intent can be shown.

Assume an employer hires a temporary labor worker that is injured at the host employer's worksite. Or assume that an injured subcontractor worker is injured on a construction site. In both of these cases, there can be third-party liability arising from the fact that other companies were involved that are not the employer of the injured worker.

The principle of third-party liability in America is such that if you cannot sue your employer for a workplace accident, you can then sue anyone else that has a deep pocket that controlled the site, created the hazard or had the responsibility to correct the hazard.

Case Histories with Universal Application

PBMC, a General Contractor in Washington State, subcontracted with S&S Gutters to install downspouts on a three-story apartment unit in Seattle, WA. On March 13, 1984, Mr. Stute, an employee of S&S Gutters, slipped off the roof, falling three stories. The roof was slippery from recent rain. There was no scaffolding or other safety equipment to break the fall. Mr. Stute fractured three vertebrae and a bone in one foot. PBMC knew that employees of the subcontractor were working on the roof without safety devices. There was no written contract between PBMC and S & S Gutters. The accident occurred on a Saturday.

The Washington State Supreme Court held that PBMC could be liable for injuries to a subcontractor for not overseeing a safe work site. The General Contractor had a non-delegable duty to ensure that all subcontractors on the site were acting in a safe manner. General Contractors cannot merely delegate safety contractually. The general contractor's innate supervisory authority constitutes control over the workplace. Such a rule recognizes that the general contractor is in the best position to coordinate work or provide expensive safety features to protect subcontractors' employees.

In another third-party landmark liability case, in this instance involving a property owner, a Washington State ruling stated that if a property owner assumes control of a subcontractor's work, they could be liable. In May 1996, the Space Needle Corporation's facility manager was in charge of security and safety, while subcontractor employees installed fireworks 500 feet atop the Space Needle. Pyro, the subcontractor, outlined safety concerns for the Space Needle because its employees usually did land-based or barge displays. Pyro did not have all the necessary safety equipment to work at heights. The Space Needle provided the safety equipment, including safety lanyards, harnesses, hoists, couplings, and safety lines with stops that prevented employees from falling beyond the edge of the roof.

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