A Good Decision for Property Owners When Construction Accidents Occur

Robert Podorsky died as a result of injuries he suffered when he was struck by construction machinery while working as an invitee of a contractor hired by Georgia Power to perform work on a construction project at Plant Bowen. Podorsky’s administrator and estate sued Georgia Power and several related companies alleging that they were liable for Podorsky’s wrongful death, pain and suffering, and other damages because as owners or occupiers of the Plant Bowen premises, they negligently failed to comply with a duty imposed by O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 to keep the project premises safe for invitees. The case went to a trial and the trial judge granted a directed verdict in favor of Georgia Power.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed. Although there was evidence that Georgia Power and Southern Company Services (acting as Georgia Power’s agent) owned the project premises or had employees or agents on the premises, the trial court did not err by directing a verdict in their favor because, where a property owner or occupier surrenders temporary possession and control of the property to an independent contractor to perform work on the property, the owner/occupier is generally not liable for injuries sustained on the property by the contractor’s invitees due to unsafe working conditions on the premises which the owner/occupier had no right to control. The general rule is that the independent contractor has the duty to keep the work premises safe and the owner/occupier has no such duty. The primary exception is where the owner/occupier hires a contractor to perform work on the premises and retains the right to direct or control the time and manner of executing the work or interferes and assumes control so as to create a relation of master/servant.

The contract entered into with regard to the Plant Bowen Project provided that the general contractor would furnish all labor, materials and supervision on the project in accordance with the project specifications and would work as an independent contractor, controlling and directing the project work. The contract also provided that Georgia Power had no right to direct or to control the project work. There was evidence that Georgia Power, acting through Southern Company Services, exercised the right to require that the general contractor comply with the contract provisions but there was no evidence that any of those provisions gave Georgia Power or Southern Company Services the right to direct or control the time and manner of the work.

The facts of this case fit most typical construction projects in which the owner retains a general contractor and turns the premises and control of the work over to that contractor. Unless the owner does something to interfere with the work or to assume control of it, this case should be helpful in allowing owners to escape liability for injuries to construction workers employed on the project.

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About the Author

Michael Rust graduated from Emory University in 1980 and Emory University School of Law in 1983 where he was Notes and Comments editor of the Emory Law Journal (Law Review). Since that time, he has maintained an active trial practice in the state of Georgia both in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Rust teaches litigation as part of Emory University School of Law’s annual Trial Practice Program. He has received AV rating from Martindale Hubble, the highest rating afforded to lawyers by their peers.