Contractor’s Injuries – Can a Homeowner Be Liable?

September 01 2020 | Blog
  • If a construction worker employed by a licensed business sustains injuries while working on a home renovation or remodeling project, his or her losses will be covered under workers’ compensation insurance. However, what happens if a homeowner directly hires an independent contractor who subsequently gets injured on the property? Read our blog to find out.

    When it comes to workers’ safety, the construction industry remains one of the most dangerous commercial enterprises in the US. In 2018, more than 20 percent of fatal on-the-job accidents in the private sector happened in construction. That year, 1,008 construction workers – an average of almost 3 individuals a day – died as a result of a fall, electrocution, or other causes.

    Importantly, most accidents within the construction industry concern people working in small businesses and establishments. For example, in 2016 alone, 67.2 percent of fatalities in the construction industry occurred in establishments with 1-19 employees. Also, the overall fatality rate for such establishments was significantly higher than those with 20 or more employees.

    Smaller companies of this size are often less likely to establish an employer-employee relationship with all employees, working with them on a sub-contractor basis instead. This is significant because while an employer must carry workers’ compensation coverage for their employees, independent contractors are usually not covered under this kind of insurance. As a result, if contractors suffer injuries in an accident on the job, their chances of obtaining full compensation for the losses are slim unless they hold their own insurance with comprehensive coverage.

    As a result, some construction workers who have been injured while offering house renovation or remodeling services on a privately-owned property may at times try to file a claim alleging the homeowner’s liability for their injuries. In this article, we will explore circumstances in which a homeowner may indeed be liable for a contractor’s injuries – and what action homeowners can take to ensure the safety of workers and protect themselves from liability.

    A Homeowner’s Liability Due to Premises Liability

    If a homeowner employs an independent contractor who is not covered by workers’ compensation to work on his or her house, he or she may be liable for certain injuries sustained by the contractor on the property. When filing a claim, the injured contractor may quote premises liability on the part of the homeowner and argue that certain dangerous, pre-existing conditions on the property caused the accident and injury or contributed to them.

    Premises liability is a legal principle establishing every property owner’s duty of care towards individuals who visit the property for business or personal reasons. This duty of care requires the owner to make reasonable efforts to ensure safe conditions on the property. This may include removing any dangers of which the owner is either aware or should reasonably be aware. It also entails taking a proactive approach and introducing appropriate safety measures.

    For example, let’s assume that a homeowner hires a worker to do some repairs on the back of the house near the swimming pool. If the homeowner fails to maintain safe conditions around the pool – for example, ensuring that the floor is dry and not slippery – and the contractor slips, falls, and is injured, the owner may be liable for the resulting injury.

    A Homeowner’s Liability Due to Exercised Control

    While premises liability is a well-defined legal principle, the concept of exercising control may be more open to interpretation.

    If an independent contractor sustains injuries in the course of work commissioned by a homeowner, he or she may also file a claim against the homeowner arguing that the homeowner exercised control over the project. Exercising control may include oversight over workers as well as providing instructions. 

    While some may argue that commissioning the work is tantamount to giving instructions in and of itself, a homeowner will usually have to do more than that to face the risk of liability in case of an accident. However, if the property owner actively instructs contractors on how the work should be performed and gives advice regarding safety and injury protection, this may be construed as taking responsibility for the contractors’ safety.

    Therefore, to avoid liability, a homeowner should refrain from offering unsolicited comments that do not relate to the actual scope and subject of work commissioned. In most circumstances, it is usually best to let the workers do their jobs after details such as the scope of work, overall plans, and pay rate have been agreed upon.

    A Homeowner’s Liability and Home Insurance

    If an injured contractor is able to file a valid compensation claim against the homeowner, he or she may be able to cover the injured party’s expenses from his or her home insurance. Most standard home insurance policies include liability coverage for injuries of third persons that happen due to certain unsafe conditions on the property.

    Usually, liability coverage protects the homeowner against claims related to slip-and-fall accidents or similar mishaps that may happen to the homeowner’s guests. Nevertheless, under certain circumstances, such provisions may be also applied in the case of injuries sustained by an independent contractor.

    However, insurance policies may vary and some may include wording that explicitly excludes claims made by a construction worker injured on a homeowner’s property in the course of a construction job commissioned by the owner. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly review one’s home insurance policy before hiring an independent contractor who may not be covered by workers’ compensation.

    In addition, property owners who have been sued by an injured contractor may wish to consult a personal injury lawyer to obtain trustworthy information on legal remedies available to them.

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