Fall from ladder evokes "common work area" doctrine; employee of sub-contractor can sue
David Slater was injured in a fall from a 32 foot ladder, as he attempted to unchain it. The General Contractor had suggested that he unchain the ladder, left by another subcontractor, despite Slater's lack of experience on roofs, ladders or heights and his lack of fall protection. His claim was initally dismissed by the trial court, but reinstatted by the Court of Appeals. The higher court ruled that these circumstances brought into play the "common work area" doctrine, under which the owner or general contractor must assume a legal duty to maintain safety in certain construction areas.
The four elements that bring the common work area doctrine into play are (1) the defendant must be the general contractor or the owner of the premises; (2) who must fail to take reasonable steps within its supervising or coordinating authority to guard against readily observable and avoidable dangers; (3) which create a high degree of risk to a significant number of workmen; in a (4) common work area.
The Defendant argued that Plaintiff failed to meet most of these conditions. The higher court disagreed, noting that six employees of two subcontractors were endangered by the condition of the chained ladder. It ruled that there was a genuine issue of material fact with regard to whether the suggestion that plaintiff climb the ladder to cut the chain was a "reasonable step," since defendant made no inquiry into Plaintiff's experience and provided not fall safety equipment. The court also rejected Defendant's argument that its decision making placed only the plaintiff at risk, given that the fall of Plaintiff's body and the 32 foot ladder presented a risk to the workers on the ground.