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Jones v. Delaware River and Bay Authority

A-204-02T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY; GOVERNMENTS—Even though a bi-state agency does not “technically” own a bridge, it will be treated as the bridge’s owner for the purpose of determining whether it has landowner liability for injuries to independent contractor’s employees.

A contractor was hired by a bi-state agency to paint a bridge. One of the contractor’s employees fell off the bridge while performing his job and sued the bi-state agency. The bi-state agency claimed that, as a landowner, it was not responsible for the safety of the workers of its contractor. The lower court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the bi-state agency. The employee appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed. Generally, a landowner is not responsible for injuries sustained by an employee of a contractor hired by the landlord to perform work on its behalf. The contractor, not the landowner, is responsible for recognizing and minimizing the safety risks to its employees. There are, however, in certain circumstances when a landowner may be deemed liable for the injuries of a contractor’s employee. For example, in cases where the landowner exercises control or authority over the way the project is being conducted, the landowner may be deemed to be a general contractor. As a general contractor, the landowner would be responsible for the safety of the subcontractors. Here, the employee argued that the bi-state agency was, in fact, a general contractor because it oversaw the work being performed. The Court pointed out that a landowner may use limited authority to confirm that the required job is being performed as required without being deemed liable as a general contractor. So long as the landowner is not dictating how the work should be performed, it will not be deemed to be a general contractor. The employee then claimed that the bi-state agency was not a landowner because it did not own the bridge. He claimed that, since the bi-state agency was not actually a “landowner,” it was not immune from liability. The Appellate Division rejected his argument even though, technically speaking, the bridge was owned by the two states and not the bi-state agency. It so held because the bi-state agency exercised control over the bridge and, as such, it was a possessor-in-interest and stood in the shoes of the landowner. Therefore, the bi-state agency was entitled to landowner protection from liability.

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