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Grady v. Jones Lang Lasalle Construction Co., Inc.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Strafford

August 8, 2018

STEVEN GRADY
v.
JONES LANG LASALLE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC. & a.

          Argued: February 1, 2018

          Burns, Bryant, Cox, Rockefeller & Durkin, P.A., of Dover (Matthew B. Cox on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

          Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC, of Manchester (Gary M. Burt and Brendan D. O'Brien on the brief, and Mr. Burt orally), for the defendants.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The plaintiff, Steven Grady, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Houran, J.) granting summary judgment to the defendants, Jones Lang LaSalle Construction Company, Inc. (Jones Lang), and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Liberty Mutual Group, Inc. (collectively, "Liberty Mutual"), in this tort action for damages on the ground that the defendants did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to provide supervision, training, or safety equipment. We affirm.

         The trial court set forth the following undisputed facts. In 2012, Liberty Mutual contracted with Jones Lang to complete a construction project on premises owned by Liberty Mutual in Dover (the general contract). In January 2013, Jones Lang subcontracted the roofing work for the project (the subcontract) to A&M Roofing and Sheet Metal Company, Inc. (A&M). The plaintiff was an A&M employee when A&M began working on the project.

         On February 21, 2013, which was a cold and windy day, the plaintiff began to perform flashing and insulation work on the roof. Prior to installing the insulation, the plaintiff needed to clean dirt from the roofing membrane using a cleaning solvent. He also needed to use a torch to melt ice that was on the areas to be cleaned. The plaintiff testified that a worker must wear rubber gloves and fire-proof leather gloves to protect his hands from the cleaning solvent and the torch's flame. He further testified that a striker is used to light the torch.

         A&M provided an on-site job box, from which the plaintiff obtained the following equipment and materials: flashing, cleaner, primer, seam tape, caulking, rags, and a propane torch. The plaintiff did not find rubber gloves, fire-proof leather gloves, strikers, or any fire extinguishers in the box. The plaintiff asked his A&M supervisor if there were any gloves available, but his supervisor said there were none at the site. The plaintiff did not see or talk to anyone from Jones Lang or Liberty Mutual.

         Because of the cold weather, the plaintiff wore cotton gloves to keep his hands warm while he worked. After igniting the torch a few times with a lighter without incident, he lit the torch again as a gust of wind came, and the glove on his right hand ignited. As a result, the plaintiff was injured.

         Sometime thereafter, the plaintiff received workers' compensation benefits from A&M for his injuries. In February 2016, he brought the present action for negligence against the defendants. In May 2017, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, ruling that they did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants. "In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and, if no genuine issue of material fact exists, we determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Christen v. Fiesta Shows, Inc., 170 N.H. 372, 374-75 (2017). "We review the trial court's application of the law to the facts de novo." Id.

         II

         The plaintiff first argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Jones Lang on the basis that it owed him no duty of care.

         To recover for negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach proximately caused injury to the plaintiff. Lahm v. Farrington, 166 N.H. 146, 149 (2014). "Absent a duty, there is no negligence." Christen, 170 N.H. at 375. "When charged with determining whether a duty exists in a particular case, we necessarily encounter the broader, more fundamental question of whether the plaintiff's interests are entitled to legal protection against the defendant's conduct." Lahm, 166 N.H. at 150 (quotation omitted). "In making this determination, we consider whether the societal importance of protecting the plaintiff's interest outweighs the importance of ...


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