Generally speaking, Indiana law provides that a general contractor does not owe an outright duty of care to an independent contractor, a subcontractor, or a subcontractor’s employees. The rationale behind this rule is that a general contractor has very little control over the way a subcontractor completes its work.
However, there are five exceptions to this general rule. Those five exceptions are:
The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously decided a case regarding one of the above exceptions. In Ryan v. TCI Architects/Engineers/Contractors, Inc., 72 N.E.3rd 908 (Ind. 2017), the Indiana Supreme Court addressed the exception imposing a duty on a general contractor when a contractual obligation affirmatively shows the general contractor intended to assume a duty of care for the safety of others. As the Court noted, this “duty imposed by contract, once formed, is non-delegable and is thought to encourage the general contractor to minimize the risk of resulting injuries.” In the Ryan case, the contractual language included terms as follows:
The Indiana Supreme Court found, in the above referenced case, that the above contractual language established that the general contractor had “assumed a duty of care related to work-site safety for all employees”. The Court included subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and their employees.
In Ryan, the Indiana Supreme Court decided that the question of whether a general contractor owes a duty to an independent contractor, subcontractor, or the subcontractor’s employees should be determined on a case by case contract interpretation analysis. It is important for general contractors to carefully negotiate the terms of the contracts they enter into with their subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and independent contractors. Including certain language could result in a general contractor assuming a duty of care to individuals upon whom the general contractor had no intent to assume responsibility for.
The content of this article is for information purposes only, and neither contains nor should be considered legal advice.
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