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General Contractor’s Liability Extended

November 22, 2019

BIAW was disappointed by the WA Supreme Court’s decision in Vargas v. Inland Washington, released yesterday, where the court expanded a general contractor’s liability (under Stute). BIAW filed an amicus brief to challenge the Department of Labor & Industries’ (L&I) broad interpretation of general contractor liability, arguing that a general contractor is not strictly liable for a subcontractor’s safety violations.

“This ruling puts Washington in the minority of states nationwide that unfairly allow for general contractors to be sued for accidents caused by subcontractors in areas of a project they do not directly control,” stated BIAW General Counsel Jackson Maynard. “As we warned in our brief, this bad policy undermines the system of immunity under workers’ compensation law and will not make job sites safer. This will also likely make it more expensive to insure construction projects, further increasing the cost of housing.”

Gildardo Vargas was injured while working for a subcontractor on a project. The general contractor for the project, Inland Management, LLC., was not cited by L&I for a single safety violation. Vargas, who was covered by his employer for his injuries under the state’s Industrial Insurance Program, filed suit against two other subcontractors and Inland. The general contractor was dismissed from the suit, arguing it did not control the work of the concrete company. Vargas and L&I filed briefs in the case in which they argued that a general contractor should be liable in suit for the safety violations of a subcontractor, even when L&I’s inspectors fail to find the general contractor violated a single safety rule.

“The Court’s ruling is unfair, unconstitutional and undermines the goals of worker safety, implicit in the system Industrial Insurance put in place over a hundred years ago,” concluded Maynard. “We are disappointed the Court disagreed that a general contractor’s liability on a project, while substantial, is not unlimited.”

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