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A halogen bulb sheds light on potential liability




By Andrew Davis

During a remodel of a church involving three different contracting companies, the church caught fire and was substantially damaged. The church brought a lawsuit against all three contractors. During the remodel, a painting company that was in charge of painting and drywall, an electrical contractor, and a roofing company were brought in midway through the project to repair a leak in the roof.

Although the fire department could not determine the source of the fire, an expert retained by the church determined the source of the fire was a halogen bulb owned by the electrical company. The halogen bulb was left in the attic by employees of the roofing company during its initial inspection. 

The trial court granted summary judgment on behalf of all three contractors. The electrical company argued that even though they owned the halogen bulb, it did not owe a duty to monitor the use by other parties using its equipment. The roofing company argued that it owed no duty to operate or interfere with equipment owned by one contractor and used by another contractor. The painting company argued that it did not owe a duty to control a third party’s use of the halogen bulb. The trial court agreed with all three. The church appealed. 

The Court of Appeals in Arkansas began by recognizing that the contractors generally owe to their clients a duty to act in compliance with the standard of care of the contracting industry as well as the standard of care of a reasonably prudent person. Further, the court clarified that the standard of care for the industry is that degree of skill and care ordinarily possessed and used by the contractors doing similar work.

Next, the appellate court clarified the duty of care owed in regards to the interaction of multiple contractors and the shared use of equipment. First, the appellate court noted the owner of equipment generally has a duty to make sure that its equipment causes no harm when it knows it is being used by others. The court clarified that this duty would have extended to the electrical company by making sure that its lamp was turned off after the roofing company and the painting company were done with it. The appellate court therefore overturned the trial court’s ruling as far as the electrical company and the painting company were concerned.

The take-away is that, a contractor is responsible for its equipment regardless of who is using it. Although technically, a contractor does not owe a duty to supervise the actions of third parties, a contractor owes a duty to prevent its equipment from causing any harm.



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