Can a repairman hired as an independent contractor hold a property owner liable for injuries sustained on the property being repaired? Can his family recover wrongful death damages when those injuries are fatal? In a recent Georgia wrongful death decision, the court considered a situation in which the decedent had been changing a light bulb on 30-foot light pole at an apartment complex when the pole broke at the base, which resulted in him falling and experiencing fatal injuries. The minor children and the administratrix of the decedent’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit based on his fall and premises liability against the owner and manager of the apartment complex. Summary judgment was granted for the property owners. The plaintiffs appealed.
The case arose when the defendant owner bought the apartment complex and contracted with a property manager to manage it. The complex included both apartments and a recreational sports court that was lit by four light poles. The pole in question was around 30 feet tall and at the top of the four poles were crossbars that had light fixtures on the ends of them. Steel plates attached to the concrete pads were the site at which poles were bolted. On the other end of the poles they were touching soil that may have eroded away from the time the poles were installed.
The decedent had been helping out another man make repairs at the apartment complex for two years. The man the decedent was working with put together a proposal to replace four light bulbs and also included the cost of a rented forklift. The local businesses didn’t have a forklift available to rent, so when replacing the light bulbs, the man decided to connect part of one ladder to an extension ladder. Later on, the man was asked to put in a bid again, but reduced his price because the property management company didn’t want to pay for the forklift.