John Soletski v. Krueger International, Inc. (Statute of Repose/Independent Contractor Rule)

In John Soletski v. Krueger International, Inc. (2017AP2063), the Court of Appeals District III held that Krueger was not liable for an injury to an independent contractor operating its scissor lift. The court held the plaintiff’s negligence claims were barred under the statute of repose and the rule of employer immunity for independent contractors. Furthermore, the court held that the right to recover costs is not forfeited if costs are filed timely, but the court does not timely resolve objections.

Krueger hired Spectrum Maintenance Services to clean its furniture production facility and allowed Spectrum to use its scissor lift. Two Spectrum employees accidentally drove the lift onto an unmarked ramp, where it tipped over, injuring plaintiff Soletski. Soletski sued Krueger for negligence and violation of Wisconsin’s safe place statute (Wis. Stat. § 101.11).

The court held that the builder’s statute of repose (Wis. Stat. § 893.89) barred Soletski’s safe place claims. (Note 2017 Act 235 reduced the exposure period in the statute of repose from ten to seven years.) Under the safe place statute, building owners may be held liable for 1) defects inherent in the construction of the building or 2) defects constructed safely but that become unsafe due to improper maintenance. The statute of repose applies only to inherent structural defects. In this case, the court ruled that the ramp was an inherent structural defect because there was no evidence Krueger had improperly maintained the ramp. Therefore, the statute of repose applied and barred Soletski’s safe place claim.

The court further held that Soletski’s claims were barred by the rule that employers are generally not liable for independent contractors’ injuries. The court rejected Soletski’s argument that his case was an exception because Krueger committed an affirmative act of negligence. The court said any potential negligence on Krueger’s part (i.e. failure to warn the Spectrum employees about the ramp) were not affirmative acts, so the exception did not apply.

Finally, the court ruled that Krueger was entitled to costs because it did file its bill of costs within 30 days in accordance with Wis. Stat. § 806.06(4). The court rejected Soletski’s argument that, because of the circuit court clerk’s failure to resolve the objections to the bill of costs within the 30 day period, Krueger violated the time limit.