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Watkins v. Gabriel Steel Co.

Supreme Court of Michigan
Dec 6, 1932
245 N.W. 801 (Mich. 1932)

Summary

In Watkins v Gabriel Steel Co, 260 Mich. 692, 695; 245 N.W. 801 (1932), the Court, declaring that "the record is not sufficiently complete to justify a holding that plaintiff is entitled to recover," permitted the injured worker to maintain an action against the general contractor for injuries resulting from the alleged negligence, in a work area where the plaintiff was working and was injured, of employees of a subcontractor other than the subcontractor who employed the injured plaintiff; this parallels Funk, where this Court recognized that a general contractor may have supervisory responsibilities in such work areas.

Summary of this case from Bosak v. Hutchinson

Opinion

Docket No. 190, Calendar No. 36,634.

Submitted October 28, 1932.

Decided December 6, 1932.

Appeal from Wayne; Black (Edward D.), J., presiding. Submitted October 28, 1932. (Docket No. 190, Calendar No. 36,634.) Decided December 6, 1932.

Case by Louis Watkins against Gabriel Steel Company, a Michigan corporation, for personal injuries alleged to have been due to defendant's negligence in the erection of a building. Judgment for defendant. Plaintiff appeals. Reversed, and new trial granted.

Wm. Henry Gallagher ( Francis Fitzgerald, of counsel), for plaintiff.

L.J. Carey and George J. Cooper ( Joseph J. Kennedy, of counsel), for defendant.


Jacob Adler was erecting an apartment building on a lot owned by him in the city of Detroit in the year 1928. He entered into a written contract for the furnishing and erection of the steel joists with the defendant, a corporation engaged in their manufacture. It sublet the erection of the joists to J.L. Peters. The plaintiff had the contract for the masonry. It is the claim of the plaintiff that when the third floor was reached the joists were placed in position, but not properly fastened. The masons were about to proceed with their work, and placed planks upon the steel work to permit them to move about thereon. While the plaintiff was superintending the work of his employees, the joists loosened and he was precipitated into the basement and suffered injury, for which he seeks to recover damages in this action.

The case was tried before the court without a jury. After the opening statement of plaintiff's counsel, he called the secretary of the defendant as a witness for cross-examination. His testimony developed the fact that the contract for the erection of the joists had been sublet by the defendant to Peters. Of this the plaintiff had not been theretofore informed. Discussion arose as to the liability of the defendant when the work of erection had been sublet. After some delay, in which counsel submitted authorities to the court, he expressed grave doubt as to the liability of the defendant, and, in order that the question should be determined without the expense of a trial, entered a judgment in defendant's favor, of which the plaintiff here seeks review by appeal.

It clearly appears that Peters was an independent contractor, and that he was competent to perform the work undertaken by him. While the general rule is that a contractor is exempt from liability caused by the negligence of an independent contractor or his servants, it is subject to the exception that such liability cannot be evaded, unless proper precautions are taken, when the work to be done is inherently or intrinsically dangerous. 39 C. J. pp. 1331, 1332.

This exception was clearly stated and applied in Olah v. Katz, 234 Mich. 112,116, wherein it was said:

"The general rule relied on by defendant that one who has contracted with a competent person to do a work within the scope of his independent employment is not answerable for the negligent acts of such contractor, or of his servants or agents, in the performance of the contract, is subject to the exception that immunity from responsibility may not be claimed when the work to be done is of such a character that it necessarily subjects third persons to unusual danger."

See, also, Inglis v. Millersburg Driving Ass'n, 169 Mich. 311 (Ann. Cas. 1913 D, 1174); Wight v. H. G. Christman Co., 244 Mich. 208. The safety of plaintiff was dependent upon the joists on which the planks were placed being securely fastened, and the neglect of Peters and his employees to do so subjected plaintiff to an unusual danger in the performance of his work. If his injury was due to such neglect, defendant may not be relieved from the consequences thereof by the fact that the work was being done by Peters as an independent contractor.

While the record is not sufficiently complete to justify a holding that plaintiff is entitled to recover, it is apparent that the defendant was not entitled to a judgment at the time it was entered. It will be reversed and set aside and the cause remanded for a new trial, with costs of this court to abide the result of such trial.

CLARK, C.J., and McDONALD, POTTER, NORTH, FEAD, WIEST, and BUTZEL, JJ., concurred.


Summaries of

Watkins v. Gabriel Steel Co.

Supreme Court of Michigan
Dec 6, 1932
245 N.W. 801 (Mich. 1932)

In Watkins v Gabriel Steel Co, 260 Mich. 692, 695; 245 N.W. 801 (1932), the Court, declaring that "the record is not sufficiently complete to justify a holding that plaintiff is entitled to recover," permitted the injured worker to maintain an action against the general contractor for injuries resulting from the alleged negligence, in a work area where the plaintiff was working and was injured, of employees of a subcontractor other than the subcontractor who employed the injured plaintiff; this parallels Funk, where this Court recognized that a general contractor may have supervisory responsibilities in such work areas.

Summary of this case from Bosak v. Hutchinson

In Watkins, the mason contractor was injured through the negligence of the structural steel subcontractor and the mason was permitted to recover from the general steel contractor on the principle of the Inglis, Olah and Wight cases.

Summary of this case from McDonough v. General Motors
Case details for

Watkins v. Gabriel Steel Co.

Case Details

Full title:WATKINS v. GABRIEL STEEL CO

Court:Supreme Court of Michigan

Date published: Dec 6, 1932

Citations

245 N.W. 801 (Mich. 1932)
245 N.W. 801

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