Can a Homeowner Be Liable for a Contractor's Injuries?

A homeowner might be legally responsible when a contractor gets hurt while renovating or repairing the property.

If a homeowner decides to hire a contractor to renovate or repair a house, can the contractor (or a sub-contractor) sue the homeowner for injuries that happen on the job? Under a legal theory known as premises liability, the answer could be "yes". So, it's important for homeowners to understand the risk of liability for workers' injuries when renovating a home. The issue often comes down to the specific circumstances of the project, and how the injury happened. In particular, the amount of control the homeowner exercised over the project (not just the planning, but the day-to-day or hour-to-hour execution) is typically a key determinant of legal liability, so let's take a closer look at this issue.

Homeowners Who Do Not Exercise Control Over the Project

Often, a homeowner will hire a general contractor to complete a construction or renovation project. After reviewing plans and negotiating a price, the homeowner often steps out of the way. The homeowner assumes that the contractor will perform the work properly. The homeowner knows that if the contractor does not complete the work properly, the homeowner will be able to sue for damages under contract law.

In such a situation, the homeowner is required to provide a reasonably safe place to work for the workers. This means the homeowner must warn the workers of any defects in the property that are not obvious. For example, imagine a homeowner hires workers to paint a house. There are structural issues with a portion of the front porch, and the owner is aware of that issue but has failed to remedy it. One of the painters is injured when the defective portion of the porch collapses while he is standing on it. The painter might be able to sue the homeowner. Learn more about homeowner liability for injuries.

On the other hand, imagine the homeowner hired workers to fix the porch. In such a case, if a worker became injured when the porch collapsed, the worker probably would not be able to sue the owner. (Note also that if the worker is an employee of the contractor or sub-contractor, a workers' compensation claim might be the proper remedy for injuries that occurred on the job. Learn more about personal injury claims versus workers' compensation claims.)

Homeowners Who Exercise Control Over the Project

Another homeowner might choose to closely monitor a construction project, even if the homeowner has little or no construction experience. This close monitoring sometimes makes sense; the owner has a significant financial and even emotional interest in the project. But from a legal perspective, it may be a mistake. A homeowner who exercises some control over the day-to-day operations of a construction project is more likely to open him or herself up for personal injury liability when it comes to injuries to workers, especially when compared to the homeowner who keeps his or her distance.

As discussed above, a homeowner has an obligation to provide a reasonably safe workplace for the workers. But some courts interpret that obligation differently when a homeowner actively monitors a construction project. If the homeowner gives instructions to the workers about how and when to perform certain work, the homeowner might unknowingly take on an obligation to ensure the overall safety of the workers.

For example, imagine a homeowner instructs a group of painters that a certain type of scaffold could be used to perform work on a certain portion of a home. If the workers use the scaffold and it collapses, the homeowner may be liable for the resulting injuries.

This type of private property owner injury liability can exist in situations that many homeowners might not anticipate. For example, while observing some construction work, a homeowner might comment that a worker should really be using fall protection, because the work he is performing could be dangerous. By making that comment, the owner might unwittingly be accepting responsibility for ensuring the overall safety of the workers at the construction site.

Homeowners should note that liability rules can vary (sometimes significantly) from state to state. For details on your situation, examine the statutes that have been passed by your state legislature or discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Your Homeowner's Insurance Policy Will (Probably) Protect You

While the rules on homeowner liability for a contractor's injuries will vary from one situation to the next, it's a near-certainty that the liability coverage of your homeowner's insurance policy will apply to any injury that occurs on your property, as long as the incident was an accident (something that happened as a result of your carelessness or negligence, not something you did on purpose). Learn more about homeowner's insurance and personal injury claims.

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