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Employer must indemnify contractor in $8M personal injury suit

Injured worker

An employer failed to show that a lower court erred in requiring it to indemnify Home Depot for a personal injury lawsuit filed by an employee against the home improvement chain, according to a federal appeals court. 

In Rivera v. Home Depot USA Inc., a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York affirmed on Thursday a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruling requiring Spring Valley, New York-based Bryan’s Home Improvement Corp. to pay the $8 million awarded to the employee who suffered severe injuries after an electric shock and fall from a ladder.

On Aug. 22, 2015, Daniel Rivera, who was performing remodeling work via a work contract between his employer Bryan’s and Atlanta-based Home Depot USA Inc., sustaining severe and permanent injuries. At the time of his injury, he was performing remodeling work under a work contract with Home Depot.

He filed a personal injury lawsuit against Home Depot alleging that the company provided construction management services relative to the work he was performing at the time of the incident. He also contended in his complaint that Home Depot was the general contractor on the project and was fully responsible for the safety of workers, including Mr. Rivera, on the project.

He accused Home Depot of negligence, carelessness and violation of New York Labor Laws for failing to provide him with a safe place to work, causing and or permitting unsafe conditions at the worksite, and failure to take steps and measures to protect the life of Mr. Rivera, among other accusations, according to the complaint.

A jury trial awarded Mr. Rivera $8 million, and the District Court granted Home Depot’s request for indemnification by Bryan’s Home Improvement.

Bryan’s appealed the decision, claiming that the district court erred in finding for Home Depot on its claims for common law and contractual indemnification, and arguing that an employer such as Bryan’s can only be liable to a third-party for indemnification when its employee suffers a grave injury.

The 2nd Circuit, however, found that this limitation on an employer’s liability outside of workers compensation does not apply if the employer and third party had a contract in place prior to the employee’s accident in which the employer agreed to indemnify the third party.

Although Bryan’s also argued that the master service provider agreement between the company and Home Depot was never signed, but the appellate court found that Bryan’s was liable on the theory of contractual indemnity because Home Depot was the one who failed to sign the agreement, and the court found that the contract need not be signed in order to be enforceable “when a party’s conduct is such that it evinces an intent to be bound.” Therefore, the court held that it did not need to address whether Rivera’s injury was “grave” as a matter of law.

The court also dismissed Bryan’s argument regarding the district court’s motion for summary judgment on economic damages, arguing that it violated Bryan’s constitutional right to a jury and was predicted on an expert report that lacked medical evidence. The appellate court, however, disagreed, finding no contradictions in the record as to what medical care Mr. Rivera would require going forward as a result of his injuries, or that a question of damages must always be decided by a jury, and affirmed the district court’s ruling.

Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.





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