INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) – The Indiana Supreme Court has reversed the decision of a lower court in a case that questions who has the responsibility to ensure a safe workplace when it comes to subcontractors.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Marion County Superior Court’s grant of partial ruling of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

In its April 26 decision, the court granted the request of partial summary judgment for the plaintiff in the duty of care question.

The case arises out of an injury of a subcontractor’s worker, which was a result of an agreement between TCI Architects and Gander Mountain to renovate the latter’s retail store in Lafayette, Indiana in 2012

TCI hired some subcontractors, including Craft Mechanical, which subcontracted B.A. Romaines Sheet Metal.

The worker who initially filed the complaint, Michael Ryan, was working for Romaines when he fell 8-10 feet and was seriously injured.

When looking at who was responsible for keeping the workplace safe, the courts had to dig into a few levels of contracts, as TCI had a contract with Craft that indicated the latter would be responsible. While Craft’s contract with Romaines stated that Romaines would be responsible for safety.

“Ryan testified that, at the time he fell, he was standing on top of an 8-foot ladder, removing ductwork that hung above the second-floor decking of a building. The ladder Ryan was given was allegedly too short, and Ryan claims a Romines foreman, William Hadaway, told him it was the only one available,” the opinion says. 

However, according to the court record, Hadaway disagreed, saying there were three sizes of ladders available and that Ryan had chosen the 8-foot one.

“In any case, Ryan admits he made no additional effort to contact or make complaints to either TCI or Craft,” the court writes.

Regardless, Ryan filed a complaint in the Marion County Superior Court for his injuries. He named both TCI and Craft as defendants. He later filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding duty, claiming that both companies “had a non-delegable contractual obligation to provide a safe work environment.” 

TCI responded by filing a cross-motion for summary judgment regarding duty, breach and proximate cause.

“After hearing argument on the various motions, the trial court denied Ryan’s motion, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding TCI’s duty, but then granted TCI’s motion, finding that there were not any genuine issues of material fact to be submitted to a jury,” according to the court.

Ryan appealed the ruling and the court of appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court.

However, the Supreme Court ultimately decided to “reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for TCI, grant Ryan’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of duty, and remand for further proceedings on breach, causation, and damages.”

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