Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Marlita Greve, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tabor, J.
Jeffrey Wheeler, through his conservator, appeals a summary judgment ruling that a general contractor could not be held liable for the negligence of its subcontractor. REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
An injured worker, through his conservator, appeals a summary judgment ruling that Gethmann Construction Company, Inc.-as the general contractor- could not be held liable for the negligence of its subcontractor. Jeffrey Wheeler was performing iron work for subcontractor American Piping Group (APG) when he fell and suffered severe injuries at an ethanol plant construction site. Wheeler urges two exceptions to the common law rule that the general contractor is not liable: (1) Gethmann contractually assumed a non-delegable duty to provide a safe worksite, and (2) Gethmann retained sufficient control over the worksite to be liable for Wheeler's injuries.
Because we read Gethmann's contract with project owner, Badger State Ethanol, LLC (Badger), to place a non-delegable duty on Gethmann to provide a safe worksite, we find the first exception applies. Once Gethmann contractually assumed that duty, under Iowa law it could not delegate it to APG. The contract also manifested an intent to benefit third-party employees, like Wheeler. Having determined Gethmann's assumption of a non-delegable duty, we do not need to address the retained-control exception.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings
Badger owns and operates an ethanol plant in Monroe, Wisconsin.*fn1
Badger sought to expand its Monroe plant and accepted Gethmann's bid to be the general contractor for the expansion. Gethmann subcontracted with APG to provide labor and material to complete the "front end, mill building structural steel fabrication and erection" for the project. APG enlisted Trillium Construction Services, a staffing agency for construction companies, to provide temporary employees for the project. Trillium assigned employee Wheeler to work for APG.
APG's safety director, Lonnie Louvar, discussed safety protocol with Wheeler. Louvar stressed the importance of being tied off-a safety procedure that required workers wear a double-wide lanyard attached to a retractable device while performing elevated work. Wheeler replied "he always works safe" and "there was no problem, that he had his own body harness and lanyards."
Both Gethmann and APG maintained safety policies and procedures. APG's policies placed responsibility on the superintendent and foreman for overall worker safety and for ensuring workers follow the policies and procedures. Gethmann expected subcontractors to provide safety equipment, guidance, and training similar to that which Gethmann provided its employees. Gethmann superintendent Bob Craft and project manager Jesse Van Hook were responsible for ensuring safety. Both Gethmann and APG policies required employees to be tied off at all times while laying down decking.
On February 4, 2006, Wheeler was welding beneath the second floor where his APG co-workers were attaching iron decking. APG Superintendent Kenny Cross and foreman Harvey Winkleman were overseeing the work. Workers were supposed to lay out and tack down one sheet of steel at a time, before moving to the next. Co-worker Larry Wright testified that on the day of Wheeler's injury, workers were laying out five sheets of steel before securing each to the beams. Wright also testified no workers were tied off. Once Wheeler finished welding, he operated a lift to ascend to the second floor to join his co-workers. Wheeler exited the lift without being tied off. A sheet of decking slipped from under his feet, causing him to fall twenty-three feet to the concrete floor below.
Wheeler filed suit on January 25, 2008.*fn2 Wheeler settled with APG, dismissing that defendant from the suit on August 10, 2012. Gethmann then moved for summary judgment claiming its status as a general contractor precludes liability under the rule that a contractor is not responsible for injuries caused by a subcontractor. On November 15, 2012, the district court granted summary judgment in Gethmann's favor. Wheeler appeals.
We review the grant of summary judgment for correction of legal error. Minor v. State, 819 N.W.2d 383, 393 (Iowa 2012). Summary judgment is appropriate only if the evidence presented reveals no genuine issue as to a material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pitts v. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co., 818 N.W.2d 91, 96 (Iowa 2012). We view the record in the light most favorable to the resisting party, according that party every legitimate inference reasonably deduced from the evidence. Boelman v. Grinnell Mut. Reinsurance Co., 826 N.W.2d 494, 501 (Iowa 2013). While summary adjudication is rarely appropriate in negligence cases, the determination of whether a duty is owed under particular circumstances is a matter of law for the court's determination. Thompson v. Kaczinski, 774 N.W.2d 829, 834 (Iowa 2009).
A. Liability of General ...