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"Managerial Control" Key To Construction Site Negligence Claim

For a viable negligence claim against a construction project management firm, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that the defendant exercised "managerial control" over the manner in which the work was performed when the plaintiff was injured.  A recent Suffolk Superior Court ruling emphasized that in order for an injured plaintiff-laborer to bring suit against a construction manager, there must be a showing that the management company directed the work, assumed contractual responsibility, or otherwise could be deemed to have been "in control" of the jobsite.  

After a work-related injury, the plaintiff in Rodrigues v. Tribeca Builders Corp., 32 Mass. L. Rptr. 535 (March 6, 2015) sued the construction project's general contractor, subcontractor, and a project management firm hired by the property's landlord to manage the construction.  The Court noted that "[m]atters concerning the means of project construction, and the methods adopted to ensure site worker safety" were vested in the general contractor and subcontractor but, by the terms of the contracts between the parties, no duties of job performance or site safety extended to the management firm. 

The plaintiff argued that the firm's coordination and scheduling of the construction work gave it sufficient control to give rise to a duty of care that would have permitted a finding of liability.  Disagreeing with the plaintiff, the Court drew a distinction between the management firm's "significant administrative role in coordinating the scheduling and other logistical aspects of the construction project" and its lack of connection to matters of safety.  Calling the management firm's role in supervision of the construction site "attenuated," the Court ruled that while the plaintiff's suit could proceed against the general contractor and subcontractor, the management firm was too removed to be deemed legally responsible for injury-causing safety lapses at the jobsite.

A plaintiff in a negligence suit that names multiple defendants must show that each one owed a distinct duty of care to the injured plaintiff.  As the Rodrigues case illustrates, Massachusetts courts will look to determine who has managerial control over a worksite, that is, the party or parties directing the "means and methods" of the work, before determining who may be held liable for personal injuries.

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