On November 21, the Washington State Supreme Court held that general contractors may be on the hook for the injuries of the workers on their jobsites (Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC). And not just on the hook to provide a safe jobsite for all, but for the injuries of its subcontractor’s workers. And not on the hook in one way, but potentially four ways.
The plaintiff, Mr. Vargas, was an employee of a subcontractor who was struck in the head by a whipping concrete hose as he was pouring the concrete walls for a parking garage. The hose knocked off his hard hat, leaving him unconscious and ultimately with a traumatic brain injury.
The Vargas family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper subcontractor for negligence. The general contractor moved for summary judgment, which the trial court eventually granted, finding that general contractors are not generalized guarantors of jobsite safety, and that the general contractor could not be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its subcontractors. The Vargas family appealed, and eventually got Supreme Court review. The Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment, holding that “[g]eneral contractors have expansive statutory and common law duties to provide a safe workspace” and that those duties may potentially have been breached here.
To justify its broad holding, the Court laid out two theories under direct liability (common law and the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA)) and two theories under vicarious liability (WISHA delegation and jobsite control). Continue Reading