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Lopez v. Roscio

2006 WL 319294 (U.S. Dist. Ct. N.J. 2006) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNERS LIABILITY—Where a contractor’s employee is injured while working at a project, the project owner is not liable if it didn’t purposely or negligently cause the condition, didn’t knowingly hire an incompetent contractor, and didn’t control the project.

A subcontractor sued a homeowner for negligence for injuries sustained when he was electrocuted while working on a renovation project at the house. It happened when he touched exposed live wires hanging in the crawlspace in which he was working. The subcontractor moved for summary judgment against the homeowner, but the Court denied its motion, even though a homeowner who invites the workmen of an independent contractor to his or her home to perform work is under a duty to exercise ordinary care to make sure the work areas are reasonably safe. However, when a homeowner hires a contractor who hires its own employees, the homeowner is not liable for the negligent acts of the contractor. A homeowner is not responsible to eliminate hazards that are obvious and visible and are part of, or incidental to, the work the contractor was hired to perform. An exception to the this is if the homeowner knew or should have know of the danger, or if the homeowner retained control over the manner and means by which the work was to be performed. In this case, the homeowner originally retained a contractor to build an expansion to the owner’s split-level home. As part of the expansion, the heating system was replaced and the existing furnace was removed from the crawl space in the basement. During the course of removing the old furnace, live wiring was left exposed. It was during this second renovation that the plumbing subcontractor touched the exposed wiring and was electrocuted. The Court found that the contractor was responsible for the performance of the earlier renovation and the second project. The homeowner did not retain control over the project and had no reason to know that there was exposed wiring in the crawl space. Therefore, there was no duty to warn the subcontractor of a danger or to correct the problem to make for a safe work environment. The Court also rejected the subcontractor’s argument that since the homeowner used the crawlspace for storing business records for a home-based business, he should have known of the danger. It found no evidence that the records were placed in the vicinity of the exposed wiring such that the homeowner would have been made aware of the condition.

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