Pennsylvania: Summary Judgment in Construction Case, CCP, Philadelphia County

11/03/14

Alphonso Jones, et al. v. Intech Construction Inc., et al., Philadelphia County, C.C.P., December Term, 2011, No. 3773

On January 30, 2014, the Honorable John M. Younge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of Rawle & Henderson’s client, a major national upscale hotel chain, in the matter of Alphonso Jones v. Intech Construction, et al.  In the case, plaintiff was working as an ironworker performing renovations to the Lafayette Building at 5th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  While working on the basement level under the sidewalk, a granite base stone broke free, falling on the plaintiff.  Plaintiff suffered significant injuries, including amputation of his right leg and crush fractures of the left leg.

Co-defendant, Intech Construction Inc., was the general contractor on the site and several subcontractors were also named as defendants.  Our client owned the property and maintained an on-site presence during the course of the construction.  Plaintiff was represented by Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendeski.

In the course of nearly two years of discovery, John T. Donovan and Caroline S. Vahey, attorneys for Rawle & Henderson LLP, worked to support the defense under the Owner Out of Possession Doctrine.  It is well settled in Pennsylvania that “liability cannot be imposed on a property owner who hires an independent contractor to perform work unless the owner controlled the ‘manner, methods, means, or operative detail in which the work is performed.’”  Beil v. Telesis Construction, Inc., 11 A.3d 456, 471 (Pa. 2011).

The foundation of this principle is longstanding in Pennsylvania.  A property owner is not vicariously liable for the negligence of an independent contractor because engaging an independent contractor “implies that the contractor is independent in the manner of doing the work contracted for. How can the other party control the contractor who is engaged to do the work, and who presumably knows more about doing it than the man who by contract authorized him to do it? Responsibility goes with authority.” Silveus v. Grossman, 307 Pa. 272, 278, 161 A. 362, 364 (1932).

Significantly in our case, the contract itself provided support for this position, stating: “The Contractor shall be solely responsible for and have control over construction means, methods, techniques, sequences and procedures and for coordinating all portions of the Work under the Contract.”  With this defense in mind throughout the discovery period, compelling evidence was amassed demonstrating that Kimpton had indeed transferred day-to-day control of the project entirely to Intech despite having representatives present.

At the close of discovery, we requested voluntary dismissal. When counsel refused, we were forced to pursue a Motion for Summary Judgment.   On the same date that all other Motions for Summary Judgment filed by co-defendants were denied, our motion was granted.  All claims and crossclaims asserted against our client in the multi-million dollar suit were dismissed.

John T. Donovan is a partner in our Philadelphia office and concentrates his practice on premises liability, product liability, catastrophic injury, toxic tort and construction law matters. He is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. John has tried dozens of cases to verdict in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He has been designated Liability Catastrophic Injury Counsel (LCIC) for a major international insurance carrier. He graduated cum laude from Lafayette College and received a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he was elected Vice President of his class. John has taught at Rutgers University School of Law (Camden) and currently serves on the adjunct faculty at Villanova School of Law. In addition, he volunteers on behalf of the Support Center for Child Advocates and chairs the firm’s Child Advocacy Practice Group. He has been selected as a 2014 Pennsylvania Super Lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine.

Caroline S. Vahey is an associate in our Philadelphia office. She focuses her practice in the areas of products liability, premises liability, construction law and general casualty. She is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She received a B.A., cum laude, from the Catholic University of America in 2003. In 2006, she graduated with a J.D., with honors, from the Chicago-Kent College of Law.  She was selected by the faculty of Chicago-Kent as a recipient of the Dean’s Certificate of Service Award.  The Illinois State Bar Association presented her with Certificates of Recognition in 2005 and 2006 for meritorious public service and professional responsibility activities. She volunteers and participates in political action committees and various political campaigns on the state and local level. Prior to joining Rawle & Henderson, Caroline represented both plaintiffs and defendants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in civil litigation.