SW Legal studies in Business

Employer Not Responsible for Underage Worker Employed by Independent Contractor
Description

West Virginia high court held that the owner of a building who contracted for a new roof to be installed hired an independent contractor when a firm was employed to do the roofing work. The building owner did not control the work, so had no knowledge that one worker, who suffered a serious injury, was underage.

Topic

Agency

Key Words

Independent Contractor; Underage Worker; Inherently Dangerous

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Hensley did business under the name Royalty Builders. He hired 16-year-old Robert France to do roofing work for him during his spring break from high school. Southern Equipment (SE) needed a new metal roof on a building. It accepted a bit from Quality Metal Roof (QMR). That company supplied the materials to Royalty, which did the installation work. France, working with others on the roof, fell through the roof and suffered serious head injuries. France sued SE and QMR for failing to provide a safe work environment and for vicarious liability because they exposed him to the inherently dangerous job of roofing. He also sued them for negligence for hiring Royalty to do the job, because Royalty hired underage workers in violation of state and federal law. QMR settled with France for $875,000. SE refused to settle and was granted summary judgment in its favor by the trial court. France appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. SE did not know that Royalty employed an underage worker and did not sanction that practice. Royalty was an independent contractor, and SE had the right to presume that the work would be performed properly. There can be an exception to the independent contractor defense when underage workers are employed, but that exception does not apply because SE had no way of knowing France was a member of the roofing crew. SE was not responsible for controlling the work environment in the roofing job, and the job is not "inherently dangerous" so as to require heightened awareness by SE of what was occurring on the job.

Citation

France v. Southern Equipment Co., ---S.E.2d--- (2010 WL 334922, Sup. Ct., W.Va., 2010)

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