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Court rules construction site fall is not subcontractor’s responsibility

By Marie Rohde

A woman injured when she tripped over a construction barricade during construction of a public sidewalk cannot sue the subcontractor working on the project, the 3rd District Court of Appeals found in a decision released Tuesday.

The court said government immunity extended to the subcontractor because the city of River Falls did the hiring for the project. The appellate decision was recommended for publication, an indication that the court believes it should be precedent setting.

The lawsuit was brought by Beverly Bronfeld and her brother, Stewart, who were visiting River Falls from Westport, Conn., when the accident occurred.

The intersection of Main and Maple streets was being reconstructed. A subcontractor, Pember Companies Inc., Menomonie, had put up a barricade while the concrete sidewalk was curing. Bronfeld tripped on a leg of the barricade.

Bronfeld’s lawyer, Charles Bye, said the woman sustained two fractured wrist bones and chipped a third. The injury resulted in surgery, Bye said.

“It’s an issue of the people versus the insurance companies,” said Bye. “What it boils down to is whether the insurance companies will have to bear responsibility for those they insure.”

Patrick Heaney, a lawyer representing Pember and its insurance company, West Bend Mutual, said the decision is appropriate.

“It allows contractors to know that if they follow the rules set down by the government employer properly, they have immunity,” Heaney said.

Reid Wronski, the River Falls city engineer, said he inspected the scene of the accident and found that Pember had followed the city’s instructions and that the barricades were correctly put in place.

“This was just an unfortunate accident,” Wronski said. “There was not, in my opinion, any negligence.”

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