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Court analyzes common work area doctrine in case vs. Northwest Airlines

Elizabeth Banaszak, an apprentice electician, was injured when she fell through a temporary plywood covering and into a mechanical pit at the end of a covered walkway at Metro Airport.  The walkway was being renovated at the time, and Banaszak claimed that NW Airlines had retained control of the construction site, thereby assuming a duty to the employees of sub-contractors to keep the common work area safe.  Following repeated motions by NW, the trial court eventually dismissed Banaszak's claim, holding that she had not established the foundation for a common work area claim against NW.  The Court of Appeals reversed.

NW argued that there wasn't adequate evidence that it had retained control of the common work area, and that Banaszak hadn't proferred adequate evidence that the plywood machinery covers represented a "high degree of risk to a significant number of workers."  The Court of Appeals held that the lower court erred in ruling as a matter of law that Banaszak could not support her claim:  her testimony about the co-workers in the immediate area who assisted her after the fall created a question of fact with regard to whether a significant number of workers were at risk. 

The Court pointed to the fact that the 1/2" temporary plywood coverings were inadequate and thinner than was normally used by Otis in similar situations.  It noted that complaints about the hazardous nature of the temporary coverings over the mechanical wells at the end of the walkways  had been brought to NW's attention several times during construction and upheld Banaszak's right to pursue a premises liability claim against NW, as well.

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