It is necessary for trade contractors to occupy a portion of a project while performing their scope of work. The prime or general contractor effectively grants control of that workspace on a temporary basis. Does this mean a trade contractor can be held liable to a third party – say, an employee of another trade contractor – who is injured in that workspace?
A Missouri court recently addressed the situation. A trade contractor is shielded from liability if it has completed its work in that particular workspace, the prime contractor has accepted that work as complete, and the trade contractor has relinquished control of the workspace to the prime contractor. This was true even though the injured worker tripped over work performed by the prior trade contractor at a time the trade contractor was still working in separate workspace on the project.
The other case in this issue involved a contractor’s argument that its defective work was caused by the project owner’s faulty design. Under Washington state law, a contractor can prevail with this affirmative defense only if it can show the defective work was caused solely by the design flaws. An evaluation of comparative fault is not permitted.