This spring, in O’Connell v. Turner Construction Co., the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court decided that a company serving as construction manager had no liability for injuries sustained by an employee of a subcontractor with whom the construction manager did not have a written contract. The case originated from the construction of a new high school campus undertaken by Grayslake Community High School District 127 which began in 2002.
The School District retained Turner Construction Company to manage the project. By its agreement with the School District, Turner, among other duties, assisted in preparing construction contracts, advised as to the acceptability of subcontractors, and reviewed and coordinated safety programs of contractors. There existed a written agreement between Turner and the School District; however, Turner did not have agreements with any of the contractors or subcontractors. In July 2003, the plaintiff, an employee of Linden Erectors, was injured on the construction site. Linden was a subcontractor of Waukegan Steel, a contractor of the School District. The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against several parties, including Turner, claiming liability on the basis of negligence and premises liability.
The court did not find that Turner entrusted any of the independent contractors with work; the School District, not Turner, selected the contractors and executed contracts with them. Thus, the court held that the exception alleged by the plaintiff was inapplicable.
Likewise, the court found no liability on the part of Turner with respect to plaintiff’s claim for premises liability. In exploring the legal concepts of possession and occupancy of land, the court contrasted the act of exercising dominion and control over the land with that of control over individuals and/or activities on the land. The court, focusing on the specifics of plaintiff’s allegations, found the record contained insufficient evidence showing Turner’s degree of control extended to the land at-large (as opposed to merely the activities and individuals upon it) and ruled that Turner was not the “possessor” of the construction site because its authority over the land did not exceed that of the School District.
This case provides guidance regarding the risk, and limitations thereof, associated with oversight and/or consultation of a construction project. Construction companies in a managerial, consultative, and/or supervisory role must ensure that the scope of their authority is not perceived to supersede that of the owner/developer.