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Johnson v. Season’s Restaurant

A-0792-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY—While a landowner is obligated to use reasonable care to warn a contractor of discoverable dangers related to a job for which a contractor is hired to perform, it is not liable for injuries caused by visible hazards that were part of the job itself.

A contractor was injured while repairing a restaurant’s ventilation system. The contractor was warned before he started working that the ventilation system was vibrating excessively and that the owner had placed cinder blocks inside of the unit to stop the vibration. There were three power switches that could have been used to control the unit, one in the kitchen, one inside the unit, and the circuit breaker. The contractor’s son turned off the kitchen switch and the contractor reached into the unit to turn off the interior power switch. When he could not reach it (due to the cinder blocks) he attempted to reach around it, but the fan powered up and he injured his fingers. The lower court, in granting the restaurant owner’s motion for summary judgment, concluded that the contractor did not show that the placement of the cinder blocks inside the ventilation unit (in violation of applicable building codes) caused his hand injury. On appeal, the contractor argued that the restaurant actively interfered with his repair of the unit by placing the cinder blocks in it and breached its non-delegable duty to provide him with a reasonably safe work place. The Appellate Division rejected that appeal. It found that the restaurant did not actively interfere with his repair of the unit because it warned him before he started working that there were cinder blocks in the unit to weigh it down and stop the vibrations. It noted that, faced with the difficulty in turning off the unit with the internal power switch, the contractor could have cut off the power at the circuit breaker. The Court also found that, while the restaurant owner was obligated to use reasonable care to protect the contractor against, or warn him of, discoverable dangers, the restaurant owner was not liable for injuries sustained from visible hazards that were part of the job the contractor was hired to perform. In this case, the contractor was hired to repair the ventilation system and was warned about the cinder blocks inside the fan. Instead of exercising care and cutting off the power at the circuit breaker to avoid danger, he reached into the fan to use the internal switch.


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