On July 19, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed an order denying a motion to remove the entry of nonsuit as to Appellee Patrick Smiley, Jr. (“Smiley”), following a jury trial that resulted in a $501,107.41 verdict against Fairman’s Roof & Trusses, Inc. (“Fairman’s”).
Smiley filed the underlying suit against Fairman’s after Fairman’s delivered bent trusses to a construction site where Smiley was the general contractor. These bent trusses were installed by Chris Fisher Construction (“Fisher”) and led to the collapse of a partially constructed pole barn. The collapse left Brian Baird trapped beneath four trusses and seriously injured him. Smiley alleged that Fairman’s breached their contract and warranty by delivering bent trusses.
Fairman’s also filed a complaint to join Fisher as an additional defendant. In January 2013, Brian Baird and his wife commenced a separate civil action against Smiley and Fairman’s for products liability, negligent design, premises liability, negligence, and loss of consortium. Smiley also filed a cross-claim against Fisher alleging that Fisher was solely liable for the claims asserted by Appellants or was required to indemnify Smiley pursuant to an alleged indemnification agreement between the parties.
The trial court bifurcated the appellants’ claims against Fisher from all claims of liability against Smiley and Fairman’s. In the trial against Smiley and Fairman’s, the trial court granted Smiley’s oral motion for nonsuit. The jury then returned a verdict in Appellants’ favor and against Fairman’s in the amount of $501,107.41. Appellants filed an appeal contending that the entry of nonsuit in favor of Smiley was improper prior to the presentation of evidence by all defendants. The Superior Court disagreed stating that Fairman’s indicated on the record that it was not taking a position on Smiley’s oral motion for nonsuit. Thus, Fairman’s lack of opposition suggested it did not intend to present evidence as to Smiley’s liability as part of its defense. In addition, Appellants had the opportunity to develop a case for liability during their case-in-chief which they failed to do.
The court adhered to the general rule in Pennsylvania that a contractor is not liable for injuries resulting from work entrusted to a subcontractor unless the general contractor retained control or right of supervision over the performance of the work. Here, Smiley had hired Fisher based on Fisher’s experience in building pole barns and delegated the task of construction and supplying labor to him. Further, Smiley did not visit the job site and never made an attempt to supervise Fisher’s construction work. Thus, Fisher was in total control of the project and therefore Smiley was not responsible for the actions of Fisher.
As a result, the Superior Court found no abuse of discretion or error of law by the trial court in entering nonsuit in Smiley’s favor. Thanks to Garrett Gittler for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.