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Rangel v. Brookhaven Constructors

September 29, 1999

MARTIN RANGEL,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
BROOKHAVEN CONSTRUCTORS, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 96 L 11867 Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

With the repeal of the Structural Work Act, a general contractor's liability for injury to an independent subcontractor's employee at a worksite will be based on common law negligence principles. Still, the question of who controls the work must be answered before it can be said a duty exists to use reasonable care.

In this case, we find the trial Judge correctly determined the general contractor owed no duty to the independent contractor's employee.

FACTS

Lincoln Lofts, Inc. (Lincoln) owned the building located at 3151 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. In an effort to rehab the property into lofts for sale, Lincoln entered into a contract with Brookhaven Constructors, Inc. (Brookhaven). Brookhaven, as general contractor, entered into contracts with several subcontractors, including Drywall Services, Inc. (Drywall).

Drywall, according to its contract with Brookhaven, was to provide all labor, materials, tools, plant, equipment, competent full-time supervision and services, and "do all things necessary for the proper performance, installation, construction and completion of all the Steel Studs and Gyp board hereinafter called the `Work' under and in accordance with the General Contract ***." (Emphasis in original.)

At about 8 a.m. on August 28, 1996, 26-year-old Martin Rangel (Rangel) arrived at the Lincoln Lofts project. Rangel was employed by Drywall as a drywall hanger -- a job he had done for various employers over the past six years. When Rangel arrived at the worksite he reported to his supervisor, Francisco Morphin, and was given his work assignment. Rangel was told to work on a scaffold, which Drywall constructed two days earlier. The scaffold was located at the rear entrance of the Lincoln Lofts building, on a ramp leading to the underground garage. The scaffold was a large structure, 10-15 feet tall and consisting of three towers joined by wooden planks. The scaffold had been leveled and braces were added to keep the scaffold from slipping down the ramp.

On August 27, 1996, the previous day, Rangel and his co-workers worked on the scaffold all day, putting up drywall on the ceiling. This day, Rangel used the same scaffold, which had not been moved, to put up dry wall on the walls.

Rangel said Morphin instructed him on the morning of August 28th regarding the installation of the drywall. Morphin told Rangel he should step on the braces that extended out from the scaffold when it was necessary to maneuver the drywall into place.

Rangel did as he was instructed. As he assisted in positioning the drywall, Rangel stepped down on brace 1 and brace 2 without incident. However, when he stepped onto the third brace it gave way and Rangel fell 7-10 feet to the concrete floor below. Rangel lost consciousness when he fell and suffered a basal skull fracture. He also suffered a broken left arm and a broken finger on the right hand.

Rangel brought suit against Brookhaven, the general contractor for the Lincoln Lofts project. Relying on section 414 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Rangel contended Brookhaven owed him a duty of care, which it breached by failing to inspect the scaffold and/or by failing to warn him of the dangerous condition the scaffold presented.

Brookhaven filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming it owed no duty to Rangel, the employee of an independent contractor. The trial court granted the motion and Rangel brought this appeal.

DECISION

Rangel's cause of action against Brookhaven is premised on common- law negligence. In any action for negligence, the plaintiff must present sufficient evidence to establish the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. Wojdyla v. City of Park Ridge, 148 Ill. 2d 417, 592 N.E.2d 1098 (1992); Rogers v. West Construction Co., 252 Ill. App. 3d 103, 623 N.E.2d 799 (1993). Whether a duty exists is a question of law to be decided by the court, and if no duty exists there can be no recovery. Schoenbeck v. Du Page Water Comm'n, 240 Ill. App. 3d 1045, 607 N.E.2d 693 (1993). We review the trial court's grant of summary ...


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