Sign In

148928-9 - Latham v Barton Malow Co

Douglas Latham,
 
Daniel J. Harris
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Oakland – Warren, M.)
 
Barton Malow Company,
 
Anthony F. Caffrey III
 
Defendant-Appellant,
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
_____________________________
 
 
Douglas Latham,
 
 
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Oakland - Warren, M.)
 
 
 
 
Barton Malow Company,
Defendant-Appellant.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Summary

Plaintiff Douglas Latham sought damages for an injury suffered while employed by B&H Construction on a school project for the Lake Orion School District. Lake Orion hired defendant Barton Malow Company as a construction manager. Latham, a skilled carpenter, was injured when he fell 13 to 17 feet while trying to access a mezzanine level at the school construction site.
 
Latham sued Barton-Malow, contending that it failed to provide him personal fall protection, and that it was liable under the common work area doctrine. In order to establish a claim under the common work area doctrine, a plaintiff must establish:  (1) that a defendant general contractor failed to take reasonable steps within its supervisory and coordinating authority, (2) to guard against readily observable and avoidable dangers, (3) that created a high degree of risk to a significant number of workers, (3) in a common work area.  A jury concluded that Barton Malow was 55% negligent in causing the accident that resulted in Latham’s injuries.  A judgment exceeding $1.1 million was entered in Latham’s favor.
 
Barton Malow appealed to the Court of Appeals arguing, as it had in the trial court, that it could not be liable for Latham’s injuries under the common work area doctrine because it was the construction manager, not the general contractor. Barton Malow alternatively argued that Latham did not prove the elements of the common work area doctrine and that the court had improperly instructed the jury on these elements. Barton Malow also contested the trial court’s award to Latham of interest on attorney fees and taxable costs.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Court first held that the common work area doctrine was properly applied in this case because Barton Malow had supervisory and coordinating authority during the construction project. The appeals court next held that the jury instructions used by the trial court adequately informed the jury of the elements of the common work area doctrine. The Court of Appeals then concluded that the trial court had correctly denied Barton Malow’s directed verdict motion because Latham had produced sufficient evidence to prevail under the common work area doctrine. Finally, the court noted that Barton Malow raised claims concerning the interest on attorney fees and taxable costs only to preserve them in the event it prevailed in its appeal of the jury’s verdict.  Having affirmed the verdict, the Court declined to address these issues.

Barton Malow appealed, and
on October 3, 2014, the Supreme Court ordered oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action.  The Court has directed the parties to address whether a significant number of workers were exposed to the high degree of risk identified in Latham v Barton Malow Co, 480 Mich 105, 114 (2008).