• Smith v. Wells Concrete Products Co., Court File #A14-0644.
  • May 14, 2015 | Author: Elizabeth S. Poeschl
  • Law Firm: Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P. - Minneapolis Office
  • Wells Concrete Products Co. hired Plaintiff Smith as its painting subcontractor. Wells did not control or direct Smith's work. The parties agreed that she was an independent contractor. Smith fell and was injured while working on Wells' project. Smith sued Wells, arguing that Wells had a duty to protect Smith under a "retained control" rule, among other theories. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and found that Wells did not have control over the Smith.

    The "retained control" rule states that a general contractor retains some liability for a subcontractor's safety if the general contractor general contractor controls the subcontractor's work. However, the general contractor does not have any duty to protect a subcontractor who independently decides (1) how to perform its work; (2) how to protect the work area; and (3) did not ask the general contractor to make any efforts to protect the work site. The general contractor's control over schedule and scope of work are insufficient to impose liability on a "retained control" theory. Here, Smith acted independently, so Wells could not be held responsible for her injuries.

    This opinion provides a stark reminder to all parties on a construction project that a general contractor's efforts to control a subcontractor's work can expose the general contractor to additional liabilities. This opinion also highlights the importance of expressly allocating responsibility for safety to the proper parties.