New York: Construction—Dismissal for Contractor, Supreme Court, Westchester County
November 7, 2019

A judge recently granted Rawle & Henderson LLP’s motion seeking a dismissal of all claims in favor of our client, the third-party defendant contractor, in a case venued in Supreme Court, Westchester County.

Rawle & Henderson LLP represented the third-party defendant contractor.

Plaintiff building tenant originally brought a property damage claim against defendant third-party plaintiff contractor alleging that renovations performed by third-party plaintiff contractor caused a roof collapse which resulted in thousands of dollars of damage. Third-party plaintiff hired our client third-party defendant to replace two garage doors.

The incident occurred on February 20, 2014.  Plaintiff claimed property damage and business interruption due to a partial roof collapse of the side of a commercial building.  Plaintiff was the commercial tenant of the building, which was owned and maintained by defendant/third-party plaintiff.

Defendant/third-party plaintiff owned the subject premises for over 75 years.  Plaintiff was a tenant for over 30 years. Defendant/third-party plaintiff maintains the subject property and acts as landlord.  Plaintiff leases the subject property from defendant/third-party plaintiff as a storage facility for vehicles and equipment.

Before the subject collapse, defendant/third-party plaintiff contracted third-party defendant client in September 2013 to install two new garage doors at the subject location: a freestanding external rolling door on the east side (“East door”) and a traditional sectional door on the west side (“West door”) of the subject property. The East door was completely independent from the structure of the building. The East door was solely supported by two four-by-four steel tubes which were completely independent from and unconnected to the structure of the building.  The installation did not require our client to make any expansion to the opening or any structural changes to the building.

On December 27, 2013, almost two months before the collapse, our client completed the installation of both doors.

The contract and invoices between defendant/third-party plaintiff and our client have no indemnification clauses.  Our client therefore had no contractual obligation to indemnify the third-party plaintiff or any other party in this matter. Plaintiff made a claim of $1,544,882.50.

Rawle & Henderson LLP filed for summary judgment on behalf of our client against defendant/third-party plaintiff’s claim for indemnification on the basis that no duty to indemnify exists and that our client’s work did not cause the subject collapse.

We argued that our client met its duty to defendant/third-party plaintiff by installing two garage doors as per the undisputed contract.  Our client was responsible only for the garage door installations.  The door installed on the east side—the site of the subject roof collapse—was completely independent and unconnected from the structure and did not require any structural changes to the building.

Plaintiff and third-party plaintiff did not detrimentally rely on our client’s performance of its agreement with defendant/third-party plaintiff because the doors were properly working for two months before this collapse.  Further, the mere installation of new doors without any need for structural changes is not “a comprehensive agreement” displacing defendant/third-party plaintiff’s duty to maintain the property it owned.  Our client was contracted to replace garage doors and that was the extent of our client’s duty.

Rawle & Henderson LLP argued that the Contract did not oblige our client to alter the structure in any manner in the performance of its work.  Further, the testimonial evidence demonstrated that our client performed its contract in a workmanlike manner and did not perform work beyond the scope of that contract.  Our client did not create, expand, or modify any openings or any pre-existing doorways to complete its work.

Further, our client owed no duty to plaintiff or the third-party plaintiff for the structural integrity of the subject building.  We demonstrated that our client neither caused nor created any defective condition that caused the building’s partial collapse.

The uncontroverted evidence revealed that the building collapse accident was solely caused by a pre-existing structural defect due to a missing I-beam column.  The evidence established that the condition pre-existed our client’s work and was not created by our client.

In support of the motion, we submitted an affidavit from our engineering expert, who inspected the site, contract and testimony.  He concluded that our client made no structural changes to the east side of the subject premises.  Our client did not cut any steel beams and cut no structural beams in the subject property.  The extent of our client’s work was to remove a preexisting door and tracks on the east side of the subject building and replace it with a freestanding external roll up door.  Further, plaintiff’s expert found that the subject collapse was due to an unstable roof due to a steel I-beam being improperly cut with torches.  Our client did not have any welding equipment on site and did not use welding torches to cut or weld any steel beams.

Our expert further concluded that the cut I-beam must have been cut years before our client began work at the subject property.

Upon receipt of the motion, the Court—relying on the expert reports and affidavits we submitted—granted Rawle & Henderson LLP’s motion for summary judgment, finding that our client did not cause any structural defects to the subject property and that our client fulfilled its obligations under the contract with defendant/third-party plaintiff.

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