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Eleventh Circuit: Premises Owner Owes No Duty To Independent Contractor's Employee

Jeff Friedman and Jess Boone obtained full summary judgment in federal district court for their client, an airplane glass manufacturer, in a catastrophic injury premises liability case, which was affirmed on appeal by the Eleventh Circuit. The plaintiff was employed as a construction helper for a company that contracted with our client to construct a chilled water line at a manufacturing plant. While installing the water line, the plaintiff fell 15 feet to the ground. The plaintiff was declared totally and permanently disabled by the Social Security Administration and incurred substantial medical bills. The plaintiff sued the airplane glass manufacturer (the premises owner) alleging negligence, wantonness and violation of various OSHA regulations.


The district court granted summary judgment in favor of our client. Specifically, the district court found that our client did not owe a duty to the plaintiff and, even if a duty existed, our client did not breach any duty imposed upon it by law. Alabama courts have consistently held that a premises owner owes no duty of care to employees of an independent contractor with respect to working conditions arising during the progress of the work of the contract. Weeks v. Alabama Elec. Co. Op, Inc., 419 So.2d 1381 (Ala. 1982). The general rule does not apply if the premises owner retains or reserves the right to control the manner in which the independent contractor performs his work. Alabama courts examine two areas of evidence to determine whether a premises owner controls the work performed by an independent contractor: (1) the terms of the contract between the parties; (2) the conduct of the premises owner. Ramirez v. Alabama Power Company, 898 F.Supp. 1537, 1542 (M.D.Ala. 1995). The district court found that our client did not retain control or exercise control, by its documents or its conduct, over the plaintiff’s employer, the plaintiff and the way in which they performed their work.


Additionally, the district court found that the allegedly dangerous condition was open and obvious and, as such, was or should have been observed by the plaintiff as dangerous. Further, even though the plaintiff argued that OSHA’s multi-employer doctrine applied to our client, the district court rejected this argument and held that the multi-employer doctrine does not apply to property owners. Jordan v. NUCOR Corp., 295 F.3d 828 (8th Cir. 2002).


On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the district court improperly granted summary judgment. First, the plaintiff argued that our client’s documents and actions showed that it retained control or exercised control over the plaintiff and his employer. Second, the plaintiff contested the finding that the allegedly dangerous condition was open and obvious. Third, the plaintiff submitted that OSHA’s multi-employer doctrine should have applied to our client.


The Eleventh Circuit rejected these arguments and ruled that our client owed no duty to the plaintiff because it did not control the way in which the plaintiff or his employer performed their work. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in our client’s favor. The opinion is available at: Calloway v. PPG Industries, Inc., 155 Fed.Appx. 450, 2005 WL 3087890, C.A. 11 (Ala.), November 18, 2005 (NO. 05-10782).

Contributing Author:

Jess S. Boone
Jess. S. Boone, Shareholder
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