In The News

Roofer Falls To His Death At South Florida Condominium
Roofer's Death Raises Liability And Insurance Concerns

by Eric Glazer

A roofer working on the replacement of the roof at a local condominium was recently killed in a fall from a ladder. The roofer, who was the OSHA safety officer for the job, had placed a ladder on the raised bed of a scissors truck to reach the roof. The truck shifted, causing the ladder to fall. The roofer fell off the ladder, hitting his head on the side of the truck's bed and causing a massive rupture in his brain. The roofer died on the site, in his boss' arms.

The scenario began when the condominium needed to have their sloped roof replaced. The association's manager says the board wanted to take a hands off approach to the roof replacement, and hired a roofing engineer/consultant who came well recommended. The manager said the board selected a roofer who was not the lowest bidder, but whose references and background were good. The only complaints he received about the roofing company were general noise and nailing complaints. The roofer had been working at the community for a couple of weeks before the tragedy took place.

Sources say the roofers discovered that their ladder was too short to reach the roof, and so they put the ladder on top of the flat bed of the scissors truck and raised it. According to industry experts, scissors trucks, which have scissor like arms that expand to lift the flat bed, are meant for materials, not people. Repeated calls to the roofing company were not returned.

However, the association's manager said he heard after the accident that the roofer had put the ladder on the scissors truck. He talked to the roofer, who told him that this had been done at other locations without mishap. "I told them I didn't want them to do it that way, and that I didn't realize he was doing it any way," the manager said. "We usually go over safety practices with vendors. We have access to most anything on the property except the roof. But with a sloped roof with no access except by the ladder, we decided access was a decision to be made between the roofer and the consultant."

Area sources, who asked not to be identified, say that this particular roofing company is known throughout the industry for regularly using this unsafe, but quicker and less expensive, method of accessing roofs.

Sources say the family of the roofer is pursuing legal remedies, however, it is still unclear whether the association will be sued. According to insurance expert Keith Carroll of Rick Carroll Insurance, if a contractor is injured on association property, and the roofing company didn't have insurance or the insurance policy had lapsed, the survivor has the right to sue the association. Every contractor should be asked for proof of general liability, auto liability and workers compensation coverage, Carroll insists.

Even so, Carroll says associations should have their own workman compensation insurance. That way, if a contractor's insurance policy has lapsed, the contractor automatically will be covered by the association's policy. "A workman compensation policy provides tort exemption," he says. "You're not supposed to be able to be sued, whereas if there is no policy and you are sued for benefits by an injured employee, that employee can use the common law remedies. A workman compensation policy for an association is intended to be a fail safe mechanism."

Associations that already have workman compensation for their employees are covered under that policy, should a contractor's policy lapse or expire. However, according to Carroll, many associations that don't have employees do not have workman compensation. "If neither the contractor nor the association has a workman compensation policy in effect, theoretically, the association may be liable as well as the contractor," Carroll says. "The association's general liability policy excludes workers. So, if we have an association that doesn't have employees, and everything is subcontracted out, then we would recommend all associations, even those without employees, purchase a minimum premium workman compensation policy. It costs between $800 and $1,200 a year and provides protection if any uninsured employee, subcontractor, or a casual laborer hired by the association is injured and pursues the association for remedy. It will take care of that."

Fortunately the manager, who works for a management company, says the association has this type of workman compensation policy. Carroll says that prior to hiring a contractor, an association should ask to see the contractor's or subcontractor's certificate of insurance, and contact the agent listed on the policy to make sure it is still in force, even if the effective coverage date of insurance appears recent. "Sometimes they take an old certificate and white out the dates and change them." He warns.

In terms of liability, Attorney Eric Glazer warns that even if an association is not found liable for a contractor's injury or accident, a lawsuit still can cost an association hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention years wrapped up in a court battle. To prove negligence on behalf of the association, Glazer says the plaintiff would have to show that the association contributed to the accident. "It's not a situation where the condominium had a dangerous hidden obstacle on the roof that it didn't disclose." Glazer says. "There's a duty to protect people on the property from known dangers, and the condominium didn't know of any dangers. If you hire a licensed qualified roofing company to repair a roof, it's up to them to figure out proper access."

If an association does have dangerous conditions that they know about and that will affect the job, Glazer says they need to disclose that in a written warning up front, before the job begins.

Names of the parties involved and several sources have been omitted to protect their identify. This is a true story published as an example of what can go wrong and how an association can protect itself from problems and liability.

Sources: Rick Carroll Insurance. (561) 334-3181; Eric Glazer, Attorney-at-Law, (954) 983-1112