If you are undertaking a homebuilding project, you may have a significant learning curve in terms of hiring contractors. Contractors come with their own rules, insurance policies, and other considerations when they perform work on a private property. As the homeowner, you have specific legal duties toward your contractors and subcontractors. If a contractor sustains an injury on the job, you may be liable for the damages. Here’s what you need to know before starting your next project.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Virtually all for-profit businesses (and most nonprofit organizations) cover employees with workers’ compensation in Texas. Workers’ comp is a state-run, employer-funded program that automatically pays for employees’ injuries if they occur during work-related activities. Workers’ comp pays for injuries regardless of whether or not the employer’s negligence contributed to the incident.
If you hire an employee of a licensed general contractor or subcontractor, it is typically safe to assume that workers’ compensation will cover his or her injuries. However, hiring an unlicensed contractor is a different story. In a situation where you hire an unlicensed worker not under the protection of workers’ compensation insurance, the law may see you as the employer of these workers.
As the employer, it is your legal duty to pay for worker injuries incurred on the job. Even if workers are operating under the direction of a general contractor, you are the employer if they are not licensed. Keep in mind that Texas laws require contractors to acquire proper licensure before completing work. Regardless of the contractor/subcontractor working illegally without a license, you may be liable for job-related injuries in these scenarios.
Any worker that is self-employed or otherwise not covered by workers’ compensation, which you have directly hired to work on your home, is your employee. Therefore, if you act negligently, resulting in worker injuries, the law will hold you liable for damages.
For example, as an employer you have the duty to maintain a safe work environment for your workers. This may include warning of known hazards, providing proper safety gear, and making sure the workers have enough training to prevent incidents. These tasks fall under your responsibility when you are legally the employer.
As a property owner, you also have certain legal duties. You must repair known hazards, search for unknown hazards, and warn property visitors of hazards you know about but have not yet repaired. For example, failure to fix a faulty staircase, resulting in a worker slip and fall injury, may fall under your own liability as a negligent property owner. If the courts deem that you knew or should reasonably have known about the danger but failed to prevent injury, you may be liable based on the rules of premises liability.
Even if workers’ compensation covers the damages of an injured employee, if your own negligence contributed to the incident, you may still be liable for damages. The injured employee has the right to bring a personal injury claim against you for your negligence. Texas’ workers’ compensation laws allow injured parties to bring claims against third parties and earn workers’ comp benefits. You may face a personal injury lawsuit for failing to provide a reasonably safe environment for workers.
Protect Yourself from Liability
If you’re beginning a home building project, have a general liability insurance policy in place before work begins. A general contractor should be able to show proof of general liability insurance. This insurance can protect you from injuries workers sustain while on the job. Avoid negligence-related liabilities by ensuring a safe environment for workers at all times. If you are a prudent homeowner, you can avoid lawsuits for damages that could end in payments that exceed the value of the home itself.