WORKERS COMPENSATION AND THE PRINCIPAL EMPLOYER RULE
In a recent decision, the Connecticut Appellate Court had occasion to review the circumstances where an employee of a subcontractor can maintain a claim for workers compensation benefits against the “principal employer.” Section 31-291 of the Connecticut General Statutes provides that “when any principal employer procures any work to be done wholly or part for him by a contractor, or through him by a subcontractor, and the work so procured to be done is part or process in the trade or business of such principal employer, and is performed in, on or about premises under his control, such principal employer shall be liable to pay all compensation under this chapter to the same extent as if the work were done without the intervention of such contractor or subcontractor…”. This statute is designed to permit an employee of an uninsured subcontractor to pursue a claim against a general contractor if certain conditions are satisfied.
In Dunkling v. Lawrence Brunoli, Inc the court upheld a compensation benefit award in favor of an employee of an uninsured subcontractor against the general contractor. The court found that the employee proved that the general contractor was a “principal employer” as intended by the statute. In the appeal, the general contractor argued that at the time of the injury it had substantially completed the work and it was no longer in control of the construction site. As a result, it argued that it should not be held responsible for the injuries to the employee of the subcontractor. The appellate court rejected the arguments of the general contractor. First it recognized that the workers compensation laws are designed to protect injured workers. Next, it acknowledged the importance of protecting employees of uninsured and financially irresponsible subcontractors by making the principal employers directly responsible for injuries to all who work on any part of the business which it had undertaken to carry on. Finally, it reviewed the three primary elements of the principal employer statute and found that it applied to afford benefits to the injured worker.
On the disputed element of whether the general contractor remained in control of the worksite, the court found that the facts of the case supported the commissioner’s finding. Those facts included evidence that the principal employer was contracted to complete the work to the satisfaction of the property owner and was directed to return to the worksite to make certain repairs. The fact that it was during the course of those repairs that the subcontractor’s employee sustained injury did not eliminate the responsibility of the general contractor as a “principal employer.”
This recent decision will provide added guidance to workers compensation commissioners when dealing with the thorny issues of when a general contractor should be found liable for injuries sustained by an employee of an uninsured subcontractor. If you or a loved one have sustained an injury, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney knowledgeable in all aspects of personal injury law to make sure your rights are properly protected.