Rigatti v. Reddy

318 N.J. Super. 537, 723 A.2d 1283 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: March 4, 1999

CONTRACTORS; NEGLIGENCE; LIABILITY—A landowner is under no duty to protect an independent contractor’s employee from the very hazard created by doing the contract work.

A section of a customer’s roof collapsed while a roofing company’s employee was standing on it. The section of the roof where the employee was standing was not part of the contract between the roofer and the building owner, and was not scheduled to be replaced. The lower court determined that the employee’s injuries were caused by a risk incidental to the task the employee was hired to perform, and therefore the building owner was not liable for the injuries. As a general rule, a landowner has “a non-delegable duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees against known or reasonably discoverable dangers.” This general rule operates to protect individuals performing work on the landowner’s premises, most commonly independent contractors and their employees. However, “the landowner ‘[i]s under no duty to protect an employee of an independent contractor from the very hazard created by doing the contract work.’” This exception is carved out of the landowner’s general duty to protect invitees because “the landowner may assume that the independent contractor and [its] employees are sufficiently skilled to recognize the dangers associated with their task and adjust their methods accordingly to assure their own safety.” The injured employee argued that the exceptions to the general rule imposing liability on the landowner were inapplicable for two reasons: (1) he fell through a section of the roof not a part of the contract between his employer and the landowner; and, (2) the landowner’s employees “clearly possess control over the site if they choose to exercise it.” The Appellate Division rejected both points. The roofing company was retained to install galvanized steel sheeting on the roof. Once the roofing work was delegated to it, the landowner had no duty to eliminate the operational hazards which were incidental to the very work the roofing contractor was hired to perform. In addition, the roofing contractor’s owner personally inspected the roof prior to commencement to the work, was aware of the dangers inherent in walking on the roof, and advised its employees of that danger. The potential that a roofer may fall through any part of an old roof is an inherent risk reasonably foreseeable to the worker. In addition, contrary to the worker’s argument, the landowner and its employees had no control over the roof during its repair. There was no employee of the landowner on the roof at the time of the accident, and the landowner did not provide the worker or the roofing contractor with any equipment or tools to perform the work. In addition, it did not attempt to control or oversee the manner by which the roofing work was completed. Lastly, the Court rejected the worker’s argument that the landowner’s employees could be found negligent due to a complete disregard of OSHA because the Court found that the contract between the parties provided that the general contractor was responsible for the compliance with OSHA. Further, OSHA regulations impose a duty to maintain a safe workplace upon “the employer,” which is defined as a “contractor or subcontractor.”