The short answer is maybe. Nebraska courts have long held that a general contractor can be held liable for a subcontractor’s employee’s injury, but only if the general contractor exercises significant control over both the worksite and the subcontractor. The question becomes whether the general contractor’s conduct demonstrates this control.
A general contractor that retains control over a subcontractor’s work has a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuries to workers. But this duty arises only when the general contractor (1) supervised the work that caused the injury to the employee, (2) had actual or constructive knowledge of the danger which ultimately caused the injury, and (3) had the opportunity to prevent the injury. The control must culminate in the ability to dictate the way the work is performed, not merely a general right to start and stop work, inspect progress, or make suggestions which need not be followed.
Nebraska case law provides a few examples.
- A general contractor, that controls the jobsite, but did not control the scaffolding that was owned, maintained, erected, and dismantled by the masonry subcontractor, was not responsible for the masonry subcontractor’s employee who was injured on the scaffolding.
- A general contractor that monitors whether the subcontractor’s employees are wearing personal protection equipment and has developed a fall protection plan for the subcontractor may be found liable for subcontractor’s employee’s injuries caused when the employee fell off the roof.
- A general contractor that relied on subcontractors to train their employees on trench safety and had no reason to believe that a subcontractor would not follow OSHA while digging a trench, was not liable for a subcontractor’s employee’s injuries caused by a trench collapse.
Take Away: A general contractor can be liable for a subcontractor’s employee’s injuries if the general contractor exercises significant control over the subcontractor’s work. So, be careful how much control your project managers are asserting over the subcontractors. And, if you have any questions about your worksite oversight, we recommend you contact an experienced construction attorney.