What Liability Can a Customer Carry in a Job Site Injury?

Injuries can happen to even the most safety-minded of plumbers, and in some of those situations premises liability could come into play. Here’s a breakdown of the basics.
What Liability Can a Customer Carry in a Job Site Injury?
Karim Arzadi

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You never know what hazards might await you at a job. Even if you’re careful, it’s not unreasonable to imagine leakage from a burst pipe causing the ceiling to collapse on you (if the ceiling was built or designed in a faulty manner), or getting seriously injured because of a hidden slipping hazard on the floor.

Many clients mistakenly allow plumbers to be exposed to such injury risks without providing a warning or making attempts to correct the dangerous hazard. By doing so, these clients open themselves up to potential legal liability. If you are injured due to some dangerous hazard at the job site, you may be entitled to recover damages as compensation from the client under a theory of “premises liability.” In every state, those who are in direct control of a particular parcel of property (i.e. landlords, homeowners, leasing businesses, renters, etc.) owe a duty of care to provide a reasonably safe premises to visitors, including service professionals like plumbers who are providing on-site services.

But premises liability law can be rather difficult to understand, as there are many layers to a standard analysis. Here’s a look at the basics.

The Duty of Care Issue

Those who control property owe a duty of care to their invitees to provide a reasonably safe premises free of dangerous hazards. States differ substantially on how to treat duty of care in relation to the status of the visitor. A commercial guest — such as a customer or service provider, like a plumber — is always considered an invitee, which in some states requires that the person who controls the property meet the highest standard of care. In other states, the status of the visitor is of little relevance, and all visitors are owed the same standard of care.

As a plumber (and therefore, an invitee) you will always be owed a duty of care that meets a high standard. If you are injured due to a non-obvious hazard on the premises, then there’s a good chance that the person who controls the property owed you a duty of care and should have corrected or warned you of such hazard.

Establishing Premises Liability

Premises liability issues can be further clarified by understanding some of the foundational elements. To succeed in a premises liability claim, you must show that:

  • The defendant actually controlled the property and was therefore in control of the dangerous hazard that resulted in your injuries. Suppose that you have a client who is a tenant of an apartment complex. While working on site, you are injured by some latent defect related to the electrical system installation. There is no reason that the tenant should have been aware of the existence of this defect, as it was hidden. The defect/hazard was actually in the control of the landlord. If you choose to bring a lawsuit, you’d likely want to assert your premises liability claim against the landlord.
  • There was a dangerous hazard on the property, and the defendant did not warn you of its existence or take steps to correct it.
  • The dangerous hazard was non-obvious.
  • You were harmed as a result.

In nearly every state, you can only bring a legitimate premises liability claim if the injury-causing hazard was non-obvious. Essentially, if the hazard was reasonably discoverable by you while on the job, then you cannot bring a claim based on premises liability.

The responsibility for avoiding an obvious hazard falls on the visitor. For example, if there is a large, unprotected hole on the defendant’s property, and if the hole is clearly visible upon approach, a court will rule that the visitor should have simply avoided the hazard.

Correcting Hazards and Providing Warnings

If there is a non-obvious hazard on the premises, then the defendant is required to correct the hazard or warn visitors of its existence so that they can avoid it. For example, if there is a non-obvious slipping hazard, the defendant must either clean it up or warn you in some way (i.e. a verbal warning or by setting up signs/barriers around the hazard itself).

The defendant is not absolved of responsibility for hazards that they did not have a hand in creating. What matters, ultimately, is that the defendant knew or should have known about the existence of the hazard, and failed to do anything to protect the visiting plumber (and other visitors) from the risks.

Potential Damages

As a plumber, a premises liability claim may involve significant damages. Your injuries may entitle you to lost wages (i.e. the injuries forced you to work part time, or to take time off while you recovered), loss of future earning capacity (you were required to switch careers due to your injuries), medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and a degradation in your overall quality of life.

Each of these damages may be countered — in whole or in part — by the defendant. Suppose that you bring a claim in which you claim $100,000 in lost wages. During settlement negotiations, the defendant might imply that you have a reasonable and legitimate claim but disagree with the $100,000 lost wages assertion. Effective settlement compromise might necessitate a middle ground between your own damage calculation and that of the defendant.

Plumbers must be provided reasonably safe premises in which to perform their services. Injuries suffered on site may entitle you to significant damages from the person who controls the property. If you believe that you may have a premises liability claim, it’s important to consult with a qualified attorney in your area as soon as possible.

About the Author
Karim Arzadi is a personal injury attorney based out of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. For more information, visit http://courtlaw.com.



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