John M. Becker
Experienced Legal Counsel for Architects, Engineers, Surveyors, LSRPs
& Construction Related Professionals
HUNTERDON CENTRAL REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL
167 N.J. 230 (2001)
This case involved a law suit filed by the surviving spouse of an excavation contractor who was killed when the trench in which he was working collapsed on top of him while he was installing drainage pipe for high school athletic field. The suit, a wrongful death action against, was filed against the school district, its architect, and others including the supplies of the pipe. After denying spouse's motion to expand scope of discovery, the Superior Court, Law Division, granted the school district's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff spouse appealed. The Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment, but affirmed order denying discovery.
The Supreme Court granted petitions for certification filed by all defendants. In modifying the Appellate Division's decision, the Supreme Court held that: (1) the plaintiff spouse failed to establish that either district or architect breached a duty of care by failing to supervise contractor's company's means and methods of excavating and laying piping in the trench; (2) the plaintiff spouse was entitled to attempt to discover evidence concerning related construction projects involving the school district and the architect that possibly had a bearing on the architect's and district's general supervisory responsibilities on construction projects; (3) evidence would support a finding that the school district's failure to supply the correct pipe to the contractor breached both school district's contractual duty and its duty of care to provide pipe specified in the architect's drawings that would have diminished significantly the contractor's risk of harm; and (4) the evidence would support finding that district's failure to supply the contractor with a complete set of correct pipe was a proximate cause of the contractor's death.
Accordingly the Appellate Division's was affirmed as modified and the case was remanded to the trial court for additional discovery. After the additional discovery was completed, John King for the architect refiled a motion summary judgment .on the basis that the additional discovery failed to reveal any evidence that the architect exercised any control or supervision over the contractor.