Month: February 2011

Supervision: Grounds for claim of negligence?

Construction is fraught with possible lawsuits. Even besides the possibilities of defective work or materials, accidents can occur. But what if an accident arises because of the failure to supervise someone at the jobsite? For example, a superintendent’s failure to supervise a worker or train them properly? The law is not definitive on this, but generally superintendents can sleep relatively easily.

In Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone v. Dowdy, the Virginia Supreme Court dismissed a claim for negligent supervision; however, its application has been various interpreted by the lower courts, with some concluding the court did not preclude any supervision claims under any facts, including “negligence per se” or negligence as a matter of law because of non-compliance with a statutory obligation. While there are various statutory obligations associated with construction projects, generally courts appear reluctant to allow this type of claim against a supervisor. But it is something to consider depending upon your point of view or whether you were injured or are claimed as the cause of the injury.

A good summary of the law on Dowdy’s application was written by Judge Dorsey of Roanoke in In re Gilbertson, 78 Va. Cir. 295 (2009).

Sprinkler heads: equipment or building materials? And what’s the difference anyway?

Last month the Virginia Supreme Court resolved the question of whether sprinkler heads were equipment or building materials in Royal Indemnity Co. v. Tyco Fire Products, 281 Va. ___ 091993, ___ S.E.2d ___ (2011). Why does it matter you might ask? The short answer is it affects whether defect claims are barred under Virginia’s “statute of repose,” which limits construction / construction material defect claims to 5 years from cause of action accrual.

The court reached that conclusion because it held that sprinklers were not an essential structural component and serve a purpose unrelated to the construction of the building itself. Further, the court held that characteristics of the product lend themselves to close quality control when manufactured, and thus are more akin to manufactured equipment exempt from the statute of repose then construction materials, which are covered by the statute of repose.

Whether you agree with the court’s conclusion or not, it shows the legal significance of the characterization of construction related products on legal liability.

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