New Indiana Supreme Court Construction Jobsite Safety Case

By: Sean T. Devenney, Drewry Simmons Vornehm, LLP

If you read our year end summary of Top 10 cases in Indiana for 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals’ case of Ryan v. TCI Architects/Engineers/Contractors, Inc. et. al. was discussed. Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and held that the Design-Builder (which the opinion describes as the General Contractor) had agreed to provide a safe working environment to project participants including the employees of sub-subcontractors like the Plaintiff, Mr. Ryan.   Consistent with prior Indiana Supreme Court precedent on job site safety, the Indiana Supreme Court made it crystal clear – contract documents are the first place Indiana Courts must look to determine whether a contractor has taken responsibility for the safety of employees of other contractors working on a construction site.   The contract at issue was the Design-Build Institute of America’s Standard Form of Agreement No. 535 between the Owner and Design-Builder.  A detailed review of the basis for the opinion is beyond the scope of a blog article.  However, the lesson to be learned by this case is that the contracts matter, and importantly, a well written contract can control risk associated with a job site injury – and a poorly written contract can cause a contractor to assume duties that are well outside the contractor’s control.  Attached is a link to the Supreme Court’s opinion: