The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued an important ruling pertaining to construction and premises claims. In the case of Patrick Joseph Carney v. Union Pacific Railroad Company (2016 IL 118984), the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s granting of a summary judgment motion on behalf of the Defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”). This ruling will likely have an important impact on advising construction companies and defending construction accident claims in Illinois.
The facts are simple: in Carney v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, the Plaintiff filed a multiple count complaint for negligence, including claims pursuant to Restatement 414 and 343 against the Defendant, Union Pacific. The Plaintiff was severely injured when he was assisting with the removal of an abandoned railroad bridge in Chicago. The Defendant, Union Pacific, contracted with an independent contractor to remove three abandoned bridges in Chicago. Thereafter, the independent contractor entered into a contract with the Carney Group, Plaintiff’s employer, to assist in the removal of the bridges.
Regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling pertaining to Restatement 414, the Illinois Supreme Court analyzed whether the Defendant, Union Pacific retained sufficient control over the work of the independent contractor for direct liability to attach under Restatement 414. The Illinois Supreme Court relied on the contract language between Union Pacific and the independent contractor, which specifically stated that the independent contractor was required to furnish all labor, tools, equipment, and supplies, to provide safety training for its employees, and to keep the job site free from safety and health hazards. In this regard, the Court found that there was no language in the contract or actual conduct indicating that the Defendant, Union Pacific retained sufficient control to trigger liability under Section 414. Specifically, the Court held that the “mere presence” of the Union Pacific representatives at the job site, without more, was not sufficient evidence to establish retained control for the purposes of attaching liability under Section 414.
Regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling pertaining to Restatement 343 (premises liability), the Court explained that Restatement Section 343 discusses the potential liability of a possessor of land for physical harm caused to his invitees by a dangerous condition on the land. In this case, the allegedly dangerous condition on the land was alleged to be a steel plate that extended several feet into the roadbed on which the Plaintiff was standing at the time of the accident. The Illinois Supreme Court reasoned that there was no evidence that Union Pacific knew or should have known the extent to which the transition plate extended into the roadbed. Further, the Court held that the defendant, Union Pacific did not build the bridge, did not possess the plans for the bridge, did not use the bridge and had no reason to know that the steel floor plate extended several feet into the roadbed causing a dangerous condition.
The Court’s ruling provides important insight into the interpretation of Section 414 as a method for plaintiffs to establish liability via direct liability and provides important discussion of the contract language and conduct that is sufficient to trigger liability under Section 414. The case is limited in that it relied upon specific contract terms and conduct during the construction. However, it does help to direct contractors into the type of language and in-field actions to limit exposure. The lesson here is to make sure the contract language is drafted and defined in a way that does not assume control over the means and methods of the construction work. Additionally, under Section 343 the Plaintiff must prove that he was injured from a condition on the land and that construction work is not considered such a condition.
To read the entire Illinois Supreme Court opinion in Patrick Joseph Carney v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, please visit http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2016/118984.pdf
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