For the second time in a month, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a sizable verdict to an injured worker.  And for the second time, the Court, in rcourtesy morgue file "excavator"uling on a contractor liability case, re-emphasized that workers compensation laws will act as a bar to many such claims against general contractors. 

The case, Archambault v. Soneco/Northeastern, available here, will be officially released this week. The Connecticut Law Tribune has the background and reaction in an article in this week’s edition (subscription required). 

[The case] centers on an accident in Willimantic, where a big retail store was under construction. Excavator operator Richard Archambault, an employee of subcontractor Soneco, was injured in a trench cave-in. He sued general contractor Konover Construction after winning workers’ comp benefits from Soneco. …

The Superior Court allowed the Plaintiff to argue that Konover, as general contractor, had a non-delegable duty to assure workplace safety on site.

But in a unanimous ruling penned by Justice Peter T. Zarella, the high court found [then Superior Court Judge Barbara] Quinn erred in granting those instructions. The court stated that Konover should have been permitted to assert a general denial of liability and argue that Soneco’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of Archambault’s injuries.

The case is now remanded back to the Superior Court for more briefing and perhaps a second trial.

The case follows the recent decision in Pelletier v. Sordoni Skanska where the court overturned a $41 million verdict for a paralyzed steelworker.  The Plaintiff has moved to reargue that matter. 

For construction companies in Connecticut, the case continues to highlight two points:

  • Safety must remain a top priority.  And without the coverage of workers compensation laws, there are huge potential risks if the cases are before a jury.
  • The laws regarding liability for contractors/subcontractors and the interplay with the state’s workers compensation claims continues to develop in Connecticut.  The two cases this month still reflect the uncertain nature of the law.  Construction contracts should be thorough and should address indemnification provisions, insurance, and the like.  Should an employee get injured on the job, seeking legal advice about what may happen next may help companies avoid having their dispute end up at the Connecticut Supreme Court, like this one.