Wright Associates, Inc. v. Rieder
247 Ga. 496 (1981)

Facts:

  • The Georgia Education Authority contracted with Wright Associates, Inc. for the construction of an academic building.
  • Wright Associates then contracted with Eastern Steel Erectors, Inc., an independent subcontractor.
  • Thomas Rieder, an Eastern employee, was injured in an on-site accident and recovered worker’s compensation benefits from Eastern.
  • He then sued Wright Associates in April, 1978, alleging that his injury was caused by the negligence of a Wright employee.

Issue:
Whether an employee of an independent subcontractor can recover in tort against the principal contractor.

Holding:
No.

Reasoning:

  • “A principal, intermediate, or subcontractor shall be liable for compensation to any employee injured while in the employ of any of his subcontractors engaged upon the subject-matter of the contract, to the same extent as the immediate employer.”
    • By this Code section the principal or intermediate contractor is made the “statutory employer” of the subcontractor’s employee.
  • Because statutory employers are liable to pay workers’ compensation benefits, they should receive the correlative benefit of tort immunity.

Dissent:

  • “In my view, it is not potential liability for workers’ compensation which insulates a statutory employer from tort liability but actual liability.”
  • “Here the general contractor had no actual liability. The sub-contractor paid the workers’ compensation. Thus the majority opinion has gratuitously relieved the general contractor of liability for his tort.”
  • This case represents the prevailing view that statutory employers enjoy the protection of the exclusive remedy doctrine even if the immediate employer pays workers’ comp benefits.

Rule: An employee of an independent subcontractor CANNOT recover in tort against a principal contractor, even if the immediate employer pays workers’ compensation benefits.