Employees have the ability to file a workers compensation claim against their employer for workplace injuries. However, accident lawyers will often investigate to see whether an additional claim can be asserted against some other party, in which substantially greater damages may be sought against a liability insurance policy.
In a recent unreported Appellate Division decision, the court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of an injured employee’s claim on summary judgment against the building owner. The plaintiff was a truck driver who unloaded his truck at the loading dock of a building leased by his employer. As he closed the back door of the truck, it rolled backward and crushed his hand against the loading dock. The plaintiff blamed the accident on the front wheels of the truck rolling into an eroded, depressed area of the macadam.
The building lease placed the responsibility for ordinary maintenance and repair on the tenant. The court found that the plaintiff’s claim against the building owner for negligent and careless supervision and maintenance of the premises could not proceed in view of the fact that a commercial landowner owed no duty of care to third party business invitees with respect to a leased premises under those facts. The trial judge found that the lease put the responsibility of upkeep and maintenance of the premises on the tenant – plaintiff’s employer, and therefore dismissed the case.
However, a claim based on the negligent design and/or construction of the leased premises
may under the right facts proceed against a building owner in the event of an invitee’s injury, as being unaffected by the lease. In such cases, it is imperative for plaintiff’s counsel to retain a liability expert (typically an engineer or architect) to make an inspection of the accident site to determine whether the building owner was negligent in the construction or design of the building. In the event that this work was undertaken by the tenant, it would also be necessary for the building owner to have been involved in the approval of the design or in the review or inspection of the construction.