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What Do You Think: Can Electrocuted Crane Disassembler Sue General Contractor?

19 Sep, 2023 Chris Parker

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Lawrenceville, GA ( – Generally, an injured employee cannot sue his employer for negligence for a work-related injury. But what if the employee is not strictly employed by the company he wants to sue, but is merely a subcontractor?

A case that addresses that issue involved a Georgia company, SAC Wireless, that was hired to upgrade a cell tower for a phone company. SAC was hired to replace antennae on a tower on Aug. 20, 2020. It hired a crane company to provide a crane and an operator for the crane. It needed the crane to help lift and lower equipment, including replacement antennae.

After it finished replacing antennae, an employee of the crane company came to disassemble the crane. While disassembling the crane, he was electrocuted.

The injured crane company employee sued SAC for negligence.

SAC asked the court to grant it judgment, based on its contention that the Workers’ Compensation Act was the employee’s sole remedy.

Under the exclusivity provision in Georgia’s WCA, an injured employee generally cannot sue his employer for negligence. His only remedy is to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

The WCA also contains a “statutory employer provision.” Under that provision, a general contractor is liable for payment of workers' compensation benefits to the employee of a subcontractor to the same extent as the subcontractor would be. For the provision to apply, the injured worker must be engaged in the subject matter of the contract to the same extent as the general contractor.

Could the injured employee sue the wireless company for negligence?
A. Yes. The wireless company was the employee’s statutory employer.
B. No. He was not acting in furtherance of the subject matter of the contract since that work was already finished when he was disassembling the crane.

If you chose A, you sided with the court in Hall v. SAC Wireless, No. 1:21-CV-05241-JPB (N.D. Ga. 09/11/23), which held that the injured employee was working in furtherance of the subject matter of the contract when he was electrocuted.

The court pointed out that SAC contractually retained the crane company to provide a crane to assist with hoisting workers and equipment to and from the tower in order to fulfill its own contract with its customer. The crane operator was engaged to assist in completing that project. Thus, SAC was a general contractor, while the crane company was a subcontractor.

The court rejected the employee’s argument that he was not engaged upon the subject matter of the contract because his injury occurred after the hoisting work was completed—that he was merely "a pickup man."

“It is the Court's belief that erecting the crane, tending to the needs of the crane and disassembling the crane were as much a part of the contract as the hoisting activities,” the court wrote.

Thus, the injured employee was limited to seeking workers’ compensation benefits from SAC and was barred from suing it in negligence.

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