A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Lawsuit Barred by Independent Contractor Exception

By on January 27, 2017 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Kenneth Pisieczko, an independent contractor, was hired by the defendant Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (“CHOP”) to repair lights in CHOP’s day-program parking lot, which lights were affixed to the top of wooden poles. To reach the top of one of the poles to fix the light, the plaintiff secured a ladder to the pole. Due to rot in the pole, it broke, causing plaintiff to fall off the ladder and injure his heel. In Pisieczko v. Children’s Hosp. of Phila., 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 39 (App. Div. Jan. 6, 2017), he sued CHOP for his injuries. The issue on appeal was whether the independent contractor exception applied so as to bar his claim.

New Jersey law is well settled that a landowner has a duty to provide a reasonably safe working place for an independent contractor he or she hires. That duty includes the obligation to make a reasonable inspection to discover defective and hazardous conditions. However, there is an exception to this obligation in that it does not apply to known hazards that are part of or incidental to the work that the contractor is hired to perform.

A landowner’s duty to provide a reasonably safe place for the contractor to work does not entail eliminating operational hazards which are obvious and visible to the contractor upon an ordinary inspection. Further, it is assumed that the contractor’s workers “are possessed of sufficient skill to recognize the degree of danger involved and to adjust their methods of work accordingly.”

At the trial court level, CHOP moved for a dismissal of the suit via summary judgment. The judge granted summary judgment, finding that the decision to place the ladder against the pole was incident to the work being performed and plaintiff had conducted an inspection of the pole prior to its placement.

The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that CHOP was entitled to a dismissal. The plaintiff had determined the risk of reaching the lights at the top of the pole, which risk was incidental to fixing the light. The hazard was ascending the pole, which was an obvious risk, because plaintiff had inspected the pole for structural integrity before he ascended it. Further, the court found that the plaintiff chose the method to ascend the pole to fix the light without any input or supervision from CHOP.

Because plaintiff was injured due to a hazard created by doing the work he was hired to perform, the Appellate Division found that CHOP did not breach any duty owed to plaintiff. Hence, it upheld the trial court’s order, dismissing the case as to CHOP.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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