Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Denies General Contractor Immunity
Ruling Confirms Rights of Injured Workers to Bring Third Party Claims Against General Contractor after Receiving Workers’ Compensation Insurance
The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today affirmed the right of an employee of an uninsured subcontractor to bring third party claims against the general contractor, even if the general contractor has made workers’ compensation payments pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18. The case was an important victory for workers injured in construction accidents.
The case arose from an explosion on a residential construction site. The explosion killed a worker and seriously injured his son, who was also working at the site. Both men were employed by Great Green Barrier Co., which did not have workers’ compensation insurance. As a result, pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 18, the general contractor, Henry C. Becker Custom Building Ltd., was liable for the workers’ compensation obligations. This obligation arises under the policy in Massachusetts that a general contractor is responsible to hire only subcontractors which have workers’ compensation insurance available for their employees.
The defendant argued that the statutory scheme prevented the plaintiffs from making third party claims once they had accepted lump sum workers’ compensation settlements pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 23, which ordinarily bars workers from maintaining negligence claims against their employers if they have accepted workers’ compensation benefits. While this argument had persuaded the trial court, which granted summary judgment for the defendant, the ruling had been overturned by the Appeals Court. Wentworth v. Henry C. Becker Custom Bldg. Ltd, 76 Mass.App.Ct. 507 (2010).
The SJC granted further appellate review and affirmed the Appeals Court ruling, which reversed the summary judgment for the defendant.
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