As a general rule, a property owner is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor in the course of doing that for which he was hired to do. The rule is not without exceptions as the property owner in Eagle Truck Serv. V. Wojdalski found out.
The defendant Robb H. Inc. owned and leased commercial property to Eagle Truck Services for Eagle to operate an auto mechanic shop. According to the lease, Robb H. was responsible for installing and maintaining the roof of the premises. After the lease was signed, Robb H. commissioned bids from contractors to install a rubber roof. Robb H. selected defendant Wojdalski from a website of contractor listings and reviews. According to the testimony, the defendant did not read any reviews of Wojdalski, nor did he ask Wojdalski about prior experience before hiring.
A few months after Wojdalski was hired, a fire occurred on the roof of the building rented by Eagle. The Philadelphia fire department reported that the fire was caused by gas tanks left on the roof by Wojdalski. Eagle sued Robb H. and Wojdalski for damages.
Defendant Robb H. argued that he was not liable to Eagle under long-standing Pennsylvania law that protects property owners from an independent contractor’s negligence. However, the court disagreed and held that the claim falls under an exception to the rule to the extent it alleged that Robb H. negligently hired Wojdalski. Judge Messiah-Jackson of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County held that the defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to employ a competent roofer to do the work. As such, Robb H. was liable for the contractor’s negligence.
Special thanks to Remy Cahn for her contribution.