Monday, August 31, 2009

Court Appeals Rejects Narrow Constrution of "Common Work Area" for Crane Accident

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently reversed the grant of summary disposition to a Defendant finding that there were questions of fact as to whether the area where Plaintiff was injured could be construed as a common work area and whether the risk was posed to a significant number of workers.

In Alderman v J C Development Communities, LLC, 2009 Mich. App. LEXIS ____ (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 25, 2009), Plaintiff sued Defendant, the general contractor of a subdivision project, when he was injured on the job site. He was employed by a subcontractor engaged to pour concrete basements for the project, which involved over 200 home sites, including 13 sites running along and parallel to electric power lines.

The subcontractor used a 65-foot crane to lift forms from its trucks and set them in place around each home's future basement. The forms would be set one day, concrete would be poured, and the forms would be removed by the crane the next day and replaced on the trucks. The crew would then move to the next site, and other subcontractors would continue with the next steps in the building process.

Plaintiff was part of a crew of 6 men working for the subcontract on Lot 273, one of the sites adjacent to the power lines. As the crane lowered one of the forms onto the foundation, it contacted a power line. A jolt of electric current flowed through the crane and down the chain to the form and the metal "whaler" Plaintiff was using to control the form from the ground. He was knocked unconscious and his hands and feet were severely burned.

The trial court determined the area where the accident occurred was not a common work area, as only workers from plaintiff's crew were exposed to danger from the possibility of the crane touching the overhead wires. The trial court opined, "[a]t most, six employees of one subcontractor were exposed to the risk of electrocution. This is not sufficient to establish a common work area." The Court of Appeals disagreed with this narrow interpretation:
While defendant focuses on the fact that the crane hit the power lines and endangered only plaintiff’s crew and only electrocuted plaintiff, the risk associated with the crane hitting the power line extended far beyond the specific lot where plaintiff was injured. Plaintiff’s crew may have been the only subcontractors working on lot 273 when the accident occurred, but the power lines did not merely run along the one lot. They ran along several lots under active construction, and electricity is commonly understood to be hazardous.
Reversed and remanded.

A copy of the slip opinion can be found here.

1 comment:

hugh said...

This accident should not have happened as the crane should have been fitted with an inexpensive Load Insulator, (insulating link).

This is the law in North Carolina from 1 Oct 2009 which mirriors the long awaited Federal law.