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

A homeowner might be legally responsible when a contractor gets hurt on their property.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Homeowners have some responsibility for the safety of people they invite onto their property. In certain situations, this responsibility—called "premises liability"—extends to contractors who build and remodel homes. Homeowner liability for contractors varies from state to state and often depends on how a particular project is managed and how the injury happened. The more control a homeowner exercises over the project the more likely the homeowner will be liable for a contractor's injuries.

Homeowners Who Exercise Control Over Projects

Homeowners who exercise control over contractors' day-to-day work are more likely to be liable for injuries that occur during construction. Some homeowners insist on monitoring projects, even if they have little or no construction experience. The desire to closely monitor a construction project makes sense—homeowners are financially and emotionally invested in building or remodeling their homes. But trying to micromanage a construction project leaves homeowners vulnerable to premises liability lawsuits.

Controlling a construction project may include:

  • telling contractors how to do their jobs
  • providing equipment or tools for the job, or
  • supervising the day-to-work on the project.

Homeowners have a general duty to keep their property reasonably safe for contractors. But some courts interpret that obligation differently when a homeowner actively monitors a construction project. If a homeowner gives instructions to laborers 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, let's say a homeowner directs a group of painters to use a specific scaffolding on the exterior of the house. If the workers use the scaffolding as requested and it collapses, the homeowner may be liable for the painters' injuries.

If you have questions about liability rules for private property owners in your state, talk to a personal injury lawyer.

Homeowners Who Delegate Control of Projects

A homeowner can reduce the risk of a lawsuit by hiring a general contractor to oversee the project or by stepping aside and allowing contractors to perform their jobs without supervising their work. If construction defects arise, the homeowner can take legal action against the contractor. Homeowners can further protect themselves by only working with licensed contractors who are properly insured.

Even homeowners who aren't exercising control over a project have a legal duty to provide a reasonably safe place for contractors to work. This means that a homeowner must warn workers of any defects on the property that aren't obvious. For example, let's say a homeowner hires someone to paint a deck. The owner knows that there is a structural issue with the deck but hasn't fixed it and doesn't warn the painter about the problem. The painter is injured when the deck collapses. The painter will likely sue the homeowner to get compensation for the resulting injuries and other losses (called "damages").

On the other hand, if a homeowner hires a worker specifically to fix a defective deck and the worker is hurt while fixing it, the worker probably won't be able to sue the owner. But the worker may have a workers' compensation claim if the worker is an employee of a contractor or sub-contractor. Learn more about personal injury claims versus workers' compensation claims.)

Homeowner's Insurance Will Likely Protect You

If a contractor has been injured while working on your house, the good news is that your homeowner's insurance will very likely cover you as long as the incident was the result of carelessness (negligence) and not something that you did on purpose.

If you have questions about your rights and responsibilities as a homeowner, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can answer your questions and help you protect yourself and your property. Learn more about hiring a lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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