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Roofer injured by fall through rare skylight, will building owner be held liable?

A property owner is required to make the premises safe for visitor and workers invited onto the property.  If the owner fails to make the premises safe, he can be held liable if someone sustains personal injury on the premises.  A recent Somerset County case involves a roofer injured when he fell through a rare, over 100 year old skylight.  The injured roofer, who was working for an independent contractor at the time, filed the lawsuit against the building owner.  Typically when a worker employed by an independent contractor is injured on the job, the owner of the premises will not be held liable if the worker is injured by the negligence of the independent contractor.  Here, the injured worker argued that the roof on the building was unique and the repair work was governed by Occupational Safety Health Act (OSHA).  He also argued that the owner of the building knew that the independent contract was not complying with OSHA work standards.

The owner of the building relied on standard premises liability law and argued that he should not be held liable because the risk was foreseeable.  The trial court of Somerset County agreed.  The injured worker appealed his case to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.  Early last month, the Superior Court determined that the Somerset County trial court wrongfully granted summary judgment in favor of the building owner.  The Superior Court found that the case met certain exceptions to premises liability law.  The court noted that the risk must be evaluated to see if it was foreseeable by the owner of the building and if it was, if the risk was different from the usual/ordinary risks associated with repairing a roof.  The Superior Court sent the case back to the trial court for a jury to determine if the risk of the skylight mets this exception.  It is important to note that this case involved a rare type of skylight that was approximately 100 years old at the time the fall occurred.  The skylight, according to the injured worker's expert, presented a unique risk due to its layout and construction.  It is the injured worker's argument that the building owner knew of this unique risk and should have known that the workers employed by the independent contractor were required to wear fall protection equipment.

It will be interesting to see if the jury will hold the building owner liable in this personal injury case.

Source:  "Fall Through Skylight Leads to Premises Liability Exception," by Max Mitchell, The Legal Intelligencer, February 18, 2014

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