The plaintiff seeks to recover for injuries he sustained when he fell from the roof of a building owned by Brigham and Women's Hospital (hospital). Approximately one year prior to the accident, the roof had a safety railing, but it was removed by the hospital's engineering department. Among those named in the amended complaint are the hospital's director and assistant director of the engineering department at the time of the accident and the individuals holding those positions when the safety railing was removed.
The judge entered summary judgment for the defendants who worked at the hospital when the railing was removed and for the chief operating officer at the time of the accident, but denied summary judgment for the director and assistant director of engineering at the time of the accident. The judge then reported the matter to the Appeals Court, pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 64, 365 Mass. 831 (1974), and asked the following questions:
We granted the plaintiff's application for direct appellate review.
The following facts were relied on by the judge in disposing of the summary judgment motions as she did. The plaintiff was employed by John F. Shea Company (Shea), an independent contractor hired by the hospital to replace the roof on the "B" building. On the morning of October 31, 1991, the first day of work, the plaintiff fell while unloading bundles of roofing material being lifted to the roof by crane.
At some point in 1990, the hospital's director of engineering decided to remove the safety railing on the roof of "B" building because "[it was] old, worn and rusted, and created a false sense of security." The assistant director of engineering coordinated the removal efforts. The railing was never replaced, nor was any other fall protection device installed.
In 1991, the hospital had a new director and assistant director of engineering. As head of the engineering department, the director coordinates the repair and maintenance of the hospital's facilities. In addition, the director is responsible for developing safety procedures, inspecting departmental areas, and eliminating unsafe conditions. The director reports to the chief operating officer, who in turn oversees the department's maintenance and safety programs.
The assistant director is second in command of the department. When an outside contractor is required to do maintenance work, the director authorizes the assistant director to hire an independent contractor. The assistant director is responsible for monitoring the independent contractor's work. Both the director and the assistant director have the authority to stop work not being performed according to the contract and to direct the outside contractor to correct safety problems.
Employees at the time of the accident. The plaintiff advances two theories of recovery against the defendants who worked at the hospital at the time of the accident. First, the plaintiff asserts that, because these defendants were responsible, directly or indirectly, for developing and implementing safety procedures and thus for providing a safe workplace, they had a duty to have the safety railing replaced, or provide some other safety device, on the roof of "B" building. Alternatively, the plaintiff argues that the defendants were individually liable for Shea's negligent failure to install safety precautions before starting the job because they had a duty to direct Shea to correct unsafe working conditions. We shall consider each argument in turn.
Officers and employees of a corporation do not incur personal liability for torts committed by their employer merely by virtue of the position they hold in the corporation. See Leavitt v. Glick Realty Corp., 362 Mass. 370, 374 (1972); Refrigeration Discount Corp. v. Catino, 330 Mass. 230, 235 (1953). The defendants may not be held individually liable for any breach of a duty which their employer, as owner of the building, may have owed to the plaintiff.
Employees are liable for torts in which they personally
A special relationship between the parties may give rise to a common law duty. See Whittaker v. Saraceno, 418 Mass. 196, 198 (1994) (commercial landlord to persons in common areas of rental property); Mullins v. Pine Manor College, supra at 50-51 (college to student); LaClair v. Silberline Mfg. Co., supra at 29 (employer to employee). For example, in Mullins v. Pine Manor College, supra, the college's vice-president was individually liable for failing to provide adequate security because colleges have a special duty to protect their students. In addition, a duty may be created by statute. See St. Germaine v. Pendergast, 411 Mass. 615, 619 (1992) (duty to comply with State building code); Rae v. Air-Speed, Inc., 386 Mass. 187, 193 (1982) (G. L. c. 152, §§ 66, 67, duty to provide workers' compensation insurance). Absent a common law or statutory duty, an employee may not be held individually liable to a third person. See Leavitt v. Glick Realty Corp., supra at 374. See also Restatement (Second) of Agency § 352 (1958).
We next consider whether the director and the assistant director owed a legal duty to the plaintiff.
There is no duty to protect lawful visitors from dangers obvious to persons of ordinary intelligence. Toubiana v. Priestly, 402 Mass. 84, 89 (1988). Similarly, the defendants were "not obliged to supply a place of maximum safety, but only one which would be safe to a person who exercises such minimum care as the circumstances reasonably indicate." Id. at 88, quoting Gadowski v. Union Oil Co., 326 F.2d 524, 525 (1st Cir. 1964). The dangers of working on a roof are obvious.
Furthermore, State and Federal safety regulations do not require property owners to install and maintain fall protection devices on low pitched roofs. Construction industry rules and regulations, 454 Code Mass. Regs. § 10.00 (1993), require contractors to provide fall protection devices during the performance of "built-up roofing work."
Next, we consider whether the defendants were liable for their failure to direct the independent contractor to install safety devices before commencing the work. In the contract with the hospital, Shea agreed to provide all necessary safety devices for the "B" building roofing project. State and Federal safety regulations require the roofing contractor to equip the roof with fall protection devices, but none was in place at the time of the accident. See note 10, supra. The plaintiff argues that the defendants had a duty to ensure that Shea complied with the safety regulations.
In general, an employer of an independent contractor is not liable for harm caused to another by the independent contractor's negligence, unless the employer retained some control over the manner in which the work was done. See St.
However, a general right to order the work stopped such as existed here is not considered sufficient control to impose liability for a contractor's negligence. St. Germaine v. Pendergast, supra. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 414 comment c illustrates the control necessary to impose liability:
Here, the hospital merely retained the authority to direct Shea to correct safety violations drawn to its attention. Shea, a roofing contractor, provided the workers, materials, and technical expertise to perform the work and provide necessary safety precautions. The defendants did not retain such a right of supervision that Shea was not entirely free to do its work on its own. See Leavitt v. Glick Realty Corp., 362 Mass. 370, 373-374 (1972). The hospital's right to stop the project is precisely the type of general right that the Restatement says should not trigger liability.
We conclude that the employees who worked at the hospital at the time of the accident cannot be held individually responsible for the plaintiff's injuries.
Employees at the time the safety railing was removed. The
As we noted earlier in the opinion, "[t]here can be negligence only where there is a duty to be careful." Supra at 832. Because we have determined that there was no duty to provide a safety railing on the roof of the "B" building, we conclude that removing the railing thought to be corroded did not constitute negligence. Thus the defendants who worked at the hospital at that time cannot be held individually liable to the plaintiff.
Summary judgments for the defendants Mark Foley, Paul Kelly, Elaine Smith, and L. James Wiczai are affirmed. Summary judgments are to be entered for the defendants Michael Morphew and Michael Pankievich.