The New Jersey Appellate Division issued a ruling last November that lets general contractors off the hook for injuries sustained by subcontractors’ employees while on the job. In Tarabokia v. Structure Tone, A-3822-11, the Appellate Division ruled that the contractor was free from liability because “the risk…was not immediately obvious and did not involve an unsafe or hazardous physical condition on the premises.” New Jersey personal injury attorneys say that this ruling may protect other contractors from similar scenarios with subcontracted employees.
Structure Tone, the defendant, was the lead company on a five-story building project in Plainsboro. The plaintiff, Raymond Tarabokia Jr., was hired as an employee of Hatzel & Buehler, the electrical company on the project. During the construction process, Structure Tone and the property owner had agreed upon a safety management plan that expressly held the hired subcontractors responsible for employee safety and for ensuring safe conditions.
While working at the construction site, Tarabokia used a Hilti DX 351 tool to set anchors for light fixtures. Hatzel & Buehler provided general safety meetings and manufacturer training on the DX 351, but over the course of a month, Tarabokia used the tool incorrectly, operating the tool without anti-vibration gloves and firing it overhead, which placed great pressure on his arms due to the machine’s powerful recoil. Tarabokia suffered severe nerve damage in his arms and wrists.
Tarabokia filed a lawsuit against Structure Tone because workers’ compensation laws prevented him from suing his own employer, Hatzel & Buehler. But the Appellate decision ruled that Structure Tone had no reason to suspect that Tarabokia was misusing a tool, given the training he received, and the fact that he and Structure Tone shared no contractual relationship. “To impose a duty of care upon [the] defendant…would…require its active involvement in the details of its subcontractors’ business,” Appellate Division Judge Anthony Parrillo said. Structure Tone conducted daily safety inspections at the site, but the company did not directly oversee Tarabokia’s work, and could not have expected the outcome.
Injuries on the job can often lead to long, expensive legal struggles, but this decision is good news for contractors who do not have day-to-day involvement in their subcontractors’ work, New Jersey personal injury attorneys say.