Fall Through Skylight Leads to Premises Liability Exception
The work, Beam argued, did not involve a deteriorating flat roof, but rather a rare roof that was governed by specific provisions in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Beam further argued that Thiele knew the independent contractor had not complied with OSHA's fall protection requirements.
The Superior Court noted that, as an employee of Thiele's independent contractor, Beam was an "invitee" under the law. As such, Thiele should be insulated from liability for injuries Beam sustained through negligence of the independent contractor. However, Mundy said Beam's arguments regarding the Restatement (Second) of Torts were persuasive.
Mundy noted that the state Supreme Court adopted the exceptions in the 1967 case Philadelphia Electric v. Julian, and that Gutteridge specified the two-pronged approach for evaluating whether circumstances fit the exception. The courts, under Gutteridge, must evaluate a peculiar risk based on whether it was foreseeable to the employer of the independent contractor, and if it was different from the usual and ordinary risk associated with the work.
The Superior Court noted Beam's professional engineer, Michael C. Wright, indicated in his report that the skylight was unique, as it was not as vertical or low to the roof as other skylights, and that the roof was built as early as the 1890s. Wright also said that Thiele should have known that maintenance personnel were required to wear fall protection equipment and to install anchorage locations when working on the roof.
"Upon our review of appellant's expert report and the deposition testimony presented to us, we believe evidence exists that could allow a fact-finder to render a verdict in favor of appellant," Mundy said.
Mundy added that because the trial court decided that a peculiar risk did not exist because the risk was foreseeable, the court erred as a matter of law when it granted summary judgment.
Beam's attorney, Michael Koehler of Nicholas, Perot, Smith, Koehler & Wall in Erie, Pa., and Thiele's counsel, Ronald M. Puntil of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, each did not return a call for comment.
(Copies of the 22-page opinion in Beam v. Thiele Manufacturing, PICS No. 14-0223, are available from Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •