Homeowners as General Contractors Responsible to Severely Injured Subcontractor; Indemnification Provisions Deemed Void as Against Public Policy

Attorney Peter Barrett obtained partial summary judgment in a case involving a severely injured subcontractor who fell from an unstable ladder while constructing an addition to a residential property. As a result of his fall, the injured contractor claimed damages in excess of $2 million dollars and including permanent paraplegia confining him to a wheelchair and necessitating life-long medical care. The plaintiff contractor entered into an agreement with the defendant homeowners to construct an addition to the defendant’s property. During inclement weather, the plaintiff contractor decided to stop working for the day, but was advised by the homeowner / general contractor to continue with the exterior work although the weather conditions made it dangerous to do so. Further, the plaintiff contractor attempted to stabilize his ladder with plywood and also placed plywood over an exposed hole, but defendant homeowner removed the plywood and advised the contractor that he could not use the homeowner’s plywood. The defendant homeowners filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff contractor, alleging that the contract the parties had entered into provided indemnification to the homeowners and constituted an agreement to hold the homeowners harmless for the negligence of the plaintiff contractor. The defendant homeowners then moved for summary judgment arguing, in part, that provisions of the contract relieved them of responsibility to the injured plaintiff and citing the exclusivity provisions of the worker’s compensation statute. Attorney Peter Barrett represented the plaintiff contractor in the counterclaim. Attorney Barrett successfully argued that the hold harmless clause the defendants were relying upon should be deemed void and against public policy (General Statutes § 52-572k(a)) insofar as it attempted to hold the plaintiff contractor individually responsible for injuries arising from his own work without limitation as to whether the plaintiff’s or the defendants’ negligence actually caused the injury. Judge John Danaher, III, denied the homeowner’s motion for summary judgment and allowed, in pertinent part, the plaintiff contractor’s motion for summary judgment. The allowance of the motion permitted the contractor to argue that the homeowners had suffered no demonstrable harm as a result of any breach of contract arising from his failure to secure general liability insurance (individually) and, as such, were only entitled to nominal damages. On the eve of trial and with the bulk of the defendant homeowners’ defenses now eliminated, the parties reached a settlement consistent with the judge’s decision calling for only nominal damages to be paid by the plaintiff contractor / counterclaim defendant. The insurer for Attorney Barrett’s client agreed to a contribution to the settlement in the nominal amount of $15,000 and the homeowners / general contractors’ insurer agreed to pay $935,000 as the foundation of its counterclaim had crumbled with the allowance of Attorney Barrett’s motion for summary judgment.

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