July 20, 2019

What is the Common Area Work Doctrine in Michigan?

Need help from a construction accident lawyer? Have you suffered an injury on the job, but aren’t sure if it was your employer’s fault? It might be time to familiarize yourself with Common Area Work Doctrine.

What is Common Area Work Doctrine?

Common Area Work Doctrine in Michigan is a legal term that refers to the reasonable limits of a general construction contractor’s responsibility for jobsite accidents. It helps set parameters for general contractor liabilities: what safety precautions must they take? What are the responsibilities of an employee, a pedestrian, or another passerby? The Common Area Work Doctrine helps answer these questions and provide legal clarification. This term might come up when you discuss your workplace accident with top personal injury lawyers or a construction accident lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C.

The origins of Common Area Work Doctrine

The Common Area Work Doctrine has its origins in a 1974 Supreme Court Case in the State of Michigan, Funk v. General Motors Corp. In this instance, a subcontractor employee challenged a general contractor company. The employee had fallen from height while not using any fall protection. Unfortunately, the subcontractor employee sustained serious harm.

Lower courts had previously ruled that this was the general contractor’s responsibility, but the Supreme Court ended up overturning this decision and ruling in favor of the general contractor. Due to limits described below, the court ruled that the job itself involved working at height, and the danger inherent in working at height was unavoidable. By taking the job, the employee had acknowledged and accepted that risk. Furthermore, as the employer provided the option of fall protection, they were not responsible for the fall itself.

In the process, they created the Common Area Work Doctrine, which imposes the following limits to contractor liability.

What Specific Limits does Common Area Work Doctrine Set?

While a general contracting company is responsible for ensuring proper safety and adequate training of its employees, there are limits to what one party can do to ensure the safety of another.

Common Area Work Doctrine states that general contractors are not responsible for workplace injury or accident unless they “(1) failed to take reasonable steps within its supervisory and coordinating authority (2) to protect against readily observable and avoidable dangers (3) that create a high level of risk to a significant number of workers (4) in the common working area.”

In Other Words…

An employer must use common sense in its planning and on-the-job management to make sure they don’t put a significant number of employees through undue high risk at work.

On the one hand, this seems like common sense. If your job description involves working at height, being up high is unavoidable. If an employer provides adequate lighting, but an employee doesn’t turn on the lights, that employer would not be responsible for the resulting injury.

Some More Limits to Employer Responsibility

There have been instances where multiple employers or general contractors have been involved on a single site where things went wrong. In these instances, an employer can only be responsible for their part or contribution to a jobsite. They cannot be held accountable for the mistakes, misdemeanors, or lack of consideration of another company or the members of another company.

If You Have More Questions or Concerns Contact Our Law Firm

Granted, some of the limits to employer responsibility might seem a little vague. There have been legal battles fought over what constitutes a “significant number of workers” or, in the case of Funk v. General Motors Corp., “avoidable dangers.” If you are dealing with workplace injury and find this confusing, call Cochran, Kroll, & Associates P.C. toll-free at 1-866-MICH-LAW (1-866-642-4529) for a free case evaluation. This line is available toll-free 24 hours a day to help you seek support from top personal injury lawyers and construction accident lawyers at our law firm. Find help, compassion, and clarification on your road to justice.

Tim is a writer and editor who earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Maryland and calls Washington, D.C., home after spending most of his adult life in the country’s capital. Although Tim spent most of his post-college years in the restaurant industry, he became interested in writing about legal matters after he recently moved to Colombia. Today, Tim writes professionally about medical malpractice, drug policies, and workplace injuries. Tim is focused on curating his freelancing career and plans to work remotely for as long he can.

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