What can we do if my husband is an independent contractor (handyman) and was injured as he was on a roof fixing a leak?

The roof needed to be replaced, but the homeowner just wanted to repair it. My husband used a cushion at the bottom of his ladder to help grip the ladder on the crumbling roof. Everything was going fine, then the ladder shot out from under him. The ladder slid down the roof and shot him off the roof at a high speed. He broke his leg, crushed his ankle, and had a compound fracture of his tibia. He has been in the hospital 3 times and the medical bills are adding up. We contacted the homeowner and he talked to his insurance agent. He called us and said that the homeowner’s insurance will not cover anything. That doesn’t seem right. What should we do?

Asked on July 3, 2014 under Personal Injury, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

The question is, why should the homeowner or his insurer pay compensataion in this case? The homeowner's insurer insures him, not other people (like your husband); they will only pay if the homeowner is liable, and in a case like this, liability depends on fault--that is, the homeowner would only have to compensate your husband if the homeowner caused or contributed to the accident and injury. However, from what you write, the homeowner had no fault:

* You husband agreed to repair, not replace the roof, so you husband made the choice to work on this project;

* Your husband was the one who set the ladder and used a cushion (which is probably not fully approved procedure) to try to hold the ladder in place;

* The ladder slipped out from under your husband--you do not write that the homeowner kicked, knocked, hit, etc. the ladder.

If the homeowner did not set up the ladder or knock it off, he's not at fault; if he's not at fault, he's not liable. Furthermore, by accepting the project, your husband accepted the known or common risks, which include falling off the ladder. And because he set-up etc. the ladder, if anyone was negligent, or careless, in this case, it would have had to have been your husband. In short, this does  not appear to be a case where anyone is liable or responsible to pay for your husband's injuries.

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