How to Limit Your Liability to Subcontractor Employees for Workplace Injuries
In a recent decision, Carney v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, 2016 IL 118984 (Oct. 20, 2016), the Illinois Supreme Court provided some guidance to owners and general contractors on limiting their liability to subcontractor employees in construction injury cases. Under the common law, anyone who employs an independent contractor is generally not liable for that contractor’s acts or omissions, but the hiring entity may still be liable for its own negligence.
In this case, Union Pacific Railroad Company entered into a written agreement with a general contractor, Happ’s, Inc., to remove three abandoned bridges on property owned by the railroad. Under this agreement, Happ’s purchased the bridges from the railroad and agreed to provide the labor, tools, and material necessary for the work. The contractor hired a subcontractor to assist with the removal. An employee of the subcontractor was severely injured during demolition of one of the bridges, when a falling bridge girder severed his legs, and he filed a negligence claim against the railroad. The court considered owner liability under three potential claims: owner control, negligent hiring, and dangerous condition on the land.