PA Supreme Court: Operational Control Over Contractor Work Is Needed for Property Owner Liability

In the case of Beil v. Telesis Construction Inc., et al., Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has just issued a significant decision clarifying a property owner’s responsibility for personal injury actions arising out of the work of its contractors. In Beil, Lafayette College hired Telesis, a construction company, to work on one of its campus engineering buildings. In turn Telesis, subcontracted with another company, Kusman, to perform roofing work. Beil, the plaintiff, was a Kusman employee and was injured when he fell from the roof on which Kusman was working. He sued Telesis and Lafayette.

Justice Debra Todd addressed the scope of Lafayette’s exposure — http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-89-2009mo.pdf Using the Restatement Second of Torts as a guidepost, Justice Todd’s majority opinion held that a landowner can only be liable for a personal injury action arising out of a subcontractor’s work, if the landowner retained control over that work “such that it renders the contractor not entirely free to do the work in his own way.” Merely maintaining some general responsibility for safety issues does not constitute the requisite degree of control. Rather, to be exposed to liability, the landowner must maintain some operational control over the means and methods of the subcontractor’s work. This is good news for property owners and not such good news for plaintiffs attorneys.

Special thanks to Remy Cahn for her contributions to this post. For more information, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.