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Unclear Contracts

 Injured Worker's Employer Didn't Agree to Indemnify Contractor:



A New York appellate court ruled that an employer did not expressly agree to indemnify a contractor from liability for any injuries to its employees in any future work that the employer performed for the contractor.


Case: Trombley v. Socha, No. 516943, 01/09/2014, published.


Facts: Walter J. Socha Builders hired Michael Sullivan's business – SPA Pole Building – to work on various construction projects between 2001 and 2006.


In 2004, while Sullivan was partway through the construction of a pole barn, Socha asked him to execute an insurance/indemnification rider.


Socha allegedly informed Sullivan that all contractors performing work for the various Socha companies were required to execute the rider and, further, that the rider would apply to any future work that Sullivan thereafter performed for such entities.


Sullivan said he did not recall Socha advising him that the rider would apply to all future

construction projects and testified that, at the time he executed the rider, there was no discussion of him performing additional work for Socha beyond the pole barn that he then was constructing.


In 2006, Socha hired Sullivan to provide labor for the framing of an apartment building. Sullivan employee Louis Trombley fell and suffered injuries while working on this project.


Procedural History: Trombley sued Socha for violations of Labor Law Sections 200, 240 and 241(6), as well as common-law negligence. Socha, in turn, sued Sullivan, seeking indemnification.


Trombley was able to settle his suit against Socha, and Franklin County Supreme Court Justice David Demarest dismissed Socha's claim against Sullivan, finding Sullivan had not expressly agreed to indemnify Socha for Trombley's injury.


Analysis: The Appellate Division's 3rd Department explained that Workers' Compensation Law Section 11 precludes third-party indemnification claims against employers, unless the claim is based upon a provision in a written contract entered into prior to the accident, by which the employer had expressly agreed to contribution to or indemnification of the third-party plaintiff.


The court reasoned that the rider that Sullivan executed in 2004 did not contain a clearly expressed assumption of an obligation by Sullivan to indemnify Socha for the injuries suffered by Trombley two years later.


"Upon reviewing all of the testimony, as well as the language of the indemnification rider, we cannot say that the evidence so preponderated in favor of third-party plaintiffs that the verdict could not have been reached upon any fair interpretation of the evidence," the court said. "At best, the rider is ambiguous as to whether its applicability was limited to a particular contract or proposal between the signatories thereto and, in light of Socha's and Sullivan's contrary testimony, we are unable to conclude that there was a sufficient meeting of the minds as to otherwise give rise to an enforceable contract of indemnification."


Disposition: Affirmed.

To read the decision, click here.


Source: WorkCompCentral

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