Court allows "common work area" injury claim to go to jury
In Alderman v. JC Development Communities, LLC, the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court dismissal of Alderman's injury claim. The Defendant was the general contractor on a subdivision project of 200 homesites where Alderman suffered severe electrical burn injuries. Alderman's injuries occurred when a subcontractor's employee accidentally contacted an overhead power line with a crane. Alderman's attorneys claimed that he was injured because the general contractor failed to take reasonable steps to supervise or coordinate protections against readily observable dangers that created a high degree of risk to a significant number of workers in a common work area.
The trial court had dismissed Alderman's action against the general, finding that "[a]t most, six employees of one subcontractor were exposed to the risk of electrocution..." and therefore no "common work area" existed. The Court of Appeals noted that while, under the exact circumstances of this injury, only plaintiff's crew were directly endangered, in fact numerous plumbers, carpenters, and other workers and visitors were potentially at risk as a result of the negligent operation of the crane.
In essence, anyone within falling distance of the overhead power lines or crane was endangered by careless operation. Simply speaking, the defendant and the trial court had defined the "site" unduly narrowly by limiting its consideration to the particular lot where Alderman's crew was working: workers on adjacent lots were also within the danger zone, meaning that a jury could reasonably conclude that the hazard "site" was a "common work area." The Court sent the case back for this question of fact to be resolved by the jury.