Hunt Construction v. Garrett: A Valuable Lesson for Project Owners
by: Jeffrey A. Hammond , Attorney
Who has the greatest influence over the safety of the men and women working on a construction project? The answer may surprise you.
The owner. That’s right, the owner of the project has the ability to exert the greatest influence over construction safety. The reason why is rooted in simple economic theory. The owner has a project that it wants to build and there will be countless construction companies vying to get the contract. The owner, simply put, has the power of the purse. The owner, thus, has the ability to dictate the terms of the contract and to make the final decision as to which construction company will get the job.
The Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hunt Construction v. Garrett, provides a valuable lesson for safety conscious project owners. As principled and responsible project owners continue to place a high value on the safety of the men and women who build their dreams, they are increasingly willing to pay a lot of extra money to construction managers to create, implement and enforce project safety programs. By doing so, the owner adds an incredibly valuable layer of safety responsibilities on the project.
We all know and understand in our everyday work and personal lives that accountability is fundamental to all commitments. The same is true on construction projects and especially with regard to construction site safety. Accountability is an essential keystone in the arch of construction site safety.
In the Hunt Construction case, Hunt did not dispute that it accepted and assumed substantial and detailed overall jobsite safety responsibilities in its contract with the Stadium Authority. Hunt’s position was that it did not agree to be accountable for fulfilling the extensive project safety responsibilities that the Stadium Authority paid it a lot of money to undertake. Hunt claimed that one sentence it added into the contract meant that it was only accountable to the owner, not to any of the workers on the project for whom the project safety program was designed to protect. However, the worker, not the owner, is the one who will suffer great harm if the construction manager fails to fulfill its extensive safety responsibilities.
Herein lies the lesson to principled and responsible project owners in Indiana and elsewhere around the country. If you are an owner who places a high value on worker safety, pay careful attention to the wording of the contract language that is being proposed to you to ensure that you are really getting what you are paying for.There are undoubtedly construction companies out there who will seek ways to evade accountability for the safety obligations you are willing to pay them to perform. If your goal is to protect the workers, seek out and hire contractors and construction managers who will do more than verbally express a commitment to worksite safety. Choose those who are willing to accept the accountability that goes along with that commitment. You have the ability to exert the greatest influence over the safety of the men and women who will be working on your project. Choose wisely. Indiana’s workers and their families will thank you for it.