Price v. American International Group, Inc. (Negligence & Safe Place Statute)

In Price v. American International Group, Inc. (2019AP57), the Court of Appeals District I held that WE Energies was not liable for an injury to an employee of an independent contractor.

WE Energies contracted with International Chimney Corporation (ICC) for the demolition of a chimney at WE Energies’s power plant. Ironworker and ICC employee Price was injured working on the demolition. Price sued WE Energies, alleging negligence and safe place statute claims.

Wisconsin courts have generally held that entities hiring independent contractors are not liable for injuries sustained by the independent contractor’s employees, unless “the hiring entity commits an affirmative act of negligence or where the entity has a nondelegable duty because the independent contractor is engaged in extrahazardous work.”

The court disagreed with Price that these exceptions applied and held that WE Energies was not liable for Price’s injuries. WE Energies did not commit an affirmative act of negligence leading to Price’s injury when it allegedly pressured ICC to perform the work quickly. The court found no evidence that WE Energies negligently forced ICC to prioritize speed over safety or utilize certain riskier methods to complete the work faster. ICC as an independent contractor had the sole responsibility to decide how to perform the work.

The court further found that the work for which WE Energies hired ICC was not extrahazardous. Previous case law has held that general demolition work is dangerous but not extrahazardous because special safety precautions can mitigate the danger. The court found the work in this case did not qualify as abnormally dangerous, so this exception to nonliability did not apply.

Finally, the court dismissed Price’s safe place statute (Wis. Stat. § 101.11(1)) claims. Price did not sufficiently argue that an unsafe condition associated with the structure of the building contributed to his injury.

For these reasons, the court found WE Energies was not liable for plaintiff Price’s injuries.