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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court posts one today, dated Sept. 27

In David Lee Helms, Jr. and Darlene R. Helms v. Carmel High School Vocational Building Trades Corporation, a 3-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Boehm writes:

David Helms, Jr., was injured while working as an employee of a subcontractor on a resi-dential construction project. Under Bagley v. Insight Communications Co., 658 N.E.2d 584 (Ind. 1995), a principal (the general contractor) is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor (the sub) unless one of five exceptions applies. * * *

As the Court of Appeals noted, however, our opinion (by this author) in Roberts went on to state that “in the absence of negligent selection of the contractor, an employee of the contractor has no claim against the principal based solely on the five exceptions to the general rule of nonliability for acts of the contractor.” Id. In view of this language, the Court of Appeals reasonably concluded that Roberts ruled out a principal’s liability under the second exception (contractual or legal duty) on which Helms relies. Helms, 844 N.E.2d at 566. The language from Roberts is overbroad. There is no reason why a contractual or legal obligation of the principal cannot support liability. The holding in Roberts — that the exceptions do not support liability to an employee of an independent contractor — should have been, and hereby is, confined to the first and fourth exceptions at issue in that case.

As already noted, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the principal in this case had no contractual or legal obligation to Helms, and for that reason affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 28, 2006 11:21 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions