On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-544-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Collester.
Plaintiff Louis Patterson appeals from the April 13, 2007 summary judgment order dismissing his complaint against defendant VTB Electric, Inc. (VTB). We affirm.
The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Patterson, can be summarized as follows. On February 17, 2004, Patterson, an employee of Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L), went to the home of Raymond L. Johnson and Nancy C. Johnson (homeowners) to perform an electrical connection between JCP&L's power lines and the homeowners' electric meter. The homeowners' electrical lines ran through a small trench in front of the house.
Previously, VTB had dug this trench. In order to prevent the trench from accumulating precipitation, VTB erected a plywood covering over it. Thus, any precipitation, condensation or melting would run off the plywood onto the ground.
The day of the accident, Patterson and his partner grabbed the plywood to uncover the trench. There was a pool of ice alongside the trench. Patterson slipped on this ice and he sustained a serious injury to his knee.
Patterson sued VTB, the homeowners, and another contractor*fn1 for personal injuries. Patterson alleged that VTB was liable for the injuries sustained by Patterson because VTB's actions increased the risk at the construction site and created the specific condition which caused the injury. Defendants answered and denied liability. Following a period of discovery, VTB moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not liable to Patterson because they were both subcontractors at the site.
The homeowners cross-moved for summary judgment. Patterson opposed both motions.
Judge John J. Harper granted VTB's and the homeowners' motions. The judge reviewed the law and analyzed the issues as follows:
The general principle regarding the duties of general contractors is well known. Specifically, general contractors and landowners are not liable for injuries to employees of a contractor resulting from either the condition of the premises or the manner in which the work is performed, Wolczak v. National Electric Products Corp., 66 N.J. Super. 64 at Page 71 (App. Div. 1961). See also Muhammad v. New Jersey Transit, 176 N.J. 185, at Page 198, a 2003 decision of our State Supreme Court.
Exceptions to this rule can be found where the general contractor or landowner controls the work, knowingly hires an incompetent independent contractor, or based upon an inherent danger in the work. See Alloway v. Bradlees, Inc., 157 N.J. 221, Page 229, a 1999 New Jersey Supreme Court Decision.
Thus, the question before this Court is whether VTB and the Johnsons fall within the purview of the general rule or the exceptions. Based upon the proofs, the Court finds there are no genuine issues of ...