Binsfeld v. Conrad, No. 2005AP2984 (Wis. App. 2006)

On July 24, 1998, Donald Binsfeld, who was an employee with Jones Sign Company, Inc., was electrocuted while he was working on an outdoor advertising billboard. The billboard was owned by Mortensen Properties. Binsfeld was knocked unconscious from the shock and fell forty-five feet to the ground below. Binsfeld was rendered 75 to 80% disabled as a result of the accident. He received worker’s compensation benefits, which indemnified his employer Jones Sign. Binsfeld then filed a lawsuit against Mortensen Properties, alleging liability under the Wisconsin safe place statute, negligence per se, and strict liability. Binsfeld alleges his injuries were caused by Mortensen Properties’ failure to properly maintain a safe workplace because the billboard contained fifteen structural deficiencies.

Mortensen Properties filed a motion for summary judgment on the claim tat Jones Sign’s worker’s compensation immunity extended to Mortensen Properties through a representative capacity doctrine or through a claim of passive negligence.On appeal, the Wisconsin Appellate court found that under the safe place statute, the duty on workplace owners to maintain a safe workplace is not delegable, and passive negligence cannot be a defense. The court also held that Mortensen Properties is not covered by Jones Sign’s compensation immunity. Ultimately; however, the case was settled for $1.8 million.

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