Newly Proposed Pennsylvania Bill 1737 Would Protect Subcontractors From Construction Error Liability
When a wall or staircase collapses and injures someone, who is liable? The question is more complicated than it seems. While it seems logical to sue the property owner, if the owner took all reasonable precautions and hired a qualified construction crew in the first instance to build the building, can the owner seek indemnification for any damages? The National Association of Home Builders estimates that it takes, on average, 22 subcontractors to build a single-family home — If I am injured when my own freshly-built house falls to pieces, whom do I sue? A proposed law would change the way Pennsylvania handles indemnification for construction errors and accidents. Read on to learn about the bill, and contact an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney if you or a loved one has been hurt by someone else’s negligence.
As the law stands: Subcontractors take the brunt of liability
Under the current legal regime, subcontractors can get somewhat of a raw deal. For decades in Pennsylvania, general contractors (GCs) and developers have been able to require that subcontractors and suppliers (roofers, electricians, carpenters, etc.) assume all responsibility for any accident or injury that occurs. Pennsylvania has not had what is known as an “anti-indemnification” law for the construction industry.
Indemnification is a legal agreement that one party will indemnify, or pay the legal costs and damages, for legal claims resulting from the business relationship. The logic is clear if the subcontractor is actually at fault: If an electrician screws up and causes eventual injury to a homeowner, and the homeowner sues the GC or developer as the general “owner” of the house construction project, it makes sense that the electrician should pay the GC back for any damages the GC paid out as a result of the electrician’s mistake. The agreements also prevent subcontractors from holding the GC responsible if the subcontractor suffers damages or pays out as a result of an incident.
The logic breaks down when damage or injury is actually caused by oversight or other negligence on the part of the developer or GC. Subcontractors have been prevented from seeking damages from GCs or developers, meaning that in every construction job they run the risk of owing for accidents that they did not actually cause. Subcontractors have much less bargaining power in the industry than do GCs and developers, so they typically feel compelled to sign away their rights in these agreements.
Proposed bill: If you are at fault, you pay
Two Pennsylvania state representatives (a democrat and a republican) jointly introduced a bill that would require parties to hold themselves responsible for any accidents and injuries they actually cause. The bill would render “unenforceable” any agreement under which a subcontractor is required to hold another party harmless for all incidents.
For personal injury plaintiffs, the law is also beneficial: Mom-and-pop subcontractors may not have the resources or insurance coverage to fully compensate plaintiffs for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering or wrongful death claims resulting from a construction error injury. Larger GCs and developers, on the other hand, may have much deeper pockets. Moreover, if they were truly the parties at fault for the injury, plaintiffs can rest easy knowing that justice is being served by their claims, rather than ambivalently seeking recovery from people who were not actually at fault, driving them into bankruptcy or skyrocketing their insurance premiums.
EXPERIENCED PHILADELPHIA CONSTRUCTION ERROR INJURY ATTORNEY
If your family has been injured as a result of faulty construction, please contact Benedum Law for a free initial consultation. Our Chestnut Hill law office represents injury victims throughout the Philly metro area.