Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Duty of General Contractor for Construction Site Safety

In Massachusetts, a general contractor which retains responsibilities for oversight of safety on the job site may be liable for injuries caused by the negligence of a subcontractor, according to a recent decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The court affirmed this long-standing principle, affording protection to workers who suffer construction site accidents.

When a general contractor subcontracts work at a large construction project, frequently more than one level of subcontracts is required. For example, in this particular case a general contractor hired a subcontractor to perform demolition work in a building. The subcontractor hired another subcontractor to remove asbestos. The question before the court was whether the general contractor had responsibility when a worker removing the asbestos (an employee of the “sub-subcontractor”) was injured after falling from a scaffold at a Boston construction site. More specifically, could a general contractor be held liable under the theory of negligent supervision of job site safety?

The good news for all construction workers is that the answer to that question is not affected by how many layers of contracts stand between the worker and the general contractor. As long as a general contractor retains the right to control a subcontractor’s work — a right that includes maintenance of safety measures — then the general contractor is also bound by a legal duty to supervise the subcontractor’s employees and ensure their safety.

For example, in a contract between a general contractor and a subcontractor, it is common that a general contractor is obligated to:

  • Perform periodic safety inspections
  • Provide a safety manager at the construction site
  • Record the daily responsibilities of the general contractor’s superintendent, whose duties will involve enforcement of safety procedures

The bottom line: If a laborer, employed by a subcontractor, is injured on a jobsite, the general contractor may also be liable for those injuries.

The case discussed above is Kostrzewa v. Suffolk Construction Co., Inc. and can be accessed online here.

Every accident case is unique, and the lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck, P.C., are experienced in working with top experts and getting the best compensation for victims injured in scaffold accidents, and other types of construction accidents. If you have been injured in a construction accident and wish to speak to a lawyer, please contact us online or at 617-723-7676 (or toll-free at 1-800-379-1244).