California Court Affirms Judgment that Contractor’s Employee Cannot Recover Tort Damages from Contractor’s Hirer

The California Court of Appeal recently issued an unpublished opinion in a case that posed the question of whether an injured worker had presented evidence sufficient to pursue a claim of vicarious negligence against the defendant, Amy’s Kitchen, Inc.  Amy’s kitchen hired an independent contractor, who then hired the plaintiff. While installing industrial equipment at a manufacturing plant owned by Amy’s, the plaintiff suffered injuries when his finger was crushed.

While the plaintiff recovered worker’s compensation from the independent contractor that hired him, he sued Amy’s for negligence.  The issue before the appellate court was whether the lower court had properly found no exception to the general rule that employees of independent contractors who are hurt in the workplace cannot sue the party that hired the contractor.

The California Supreme Court stated the policy reasons for the rule that employees of independent contractors cannot pursue claims against the party that hired the contractor. Since the independent contractor assumes the legal responsibility to carry out the contracted work, the hirer cannot be held vicariously liable for injuries that result from the contractor’s negligence in failing to safely perform its task.

Exceptions to the rule that a contractor and its employees cannot recover tort damages include that of retained control. If the hirer of the contractor retained control over the contractor’s work, and this control contributed to the contractor’s employee’s injury, the employee may recover from the hirer. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that Amy’s retained control over the work because the workmen were showed where to place the machine and how to move forward with the transport and installation.  But the court stated that there was no evidence that Amy’s’ decision for the location of the mixer or the route of transport was unsafe.

The plaintiff suffered injuries when the jack that had been supplied by his employer and operated by his coworker caused the machine to fall and crush his finger.  There was no evidence that Amy’s or one of Amy’s’ employees directed the use of the jack.  The appellate court stated that passively permitting an unsafe condition is not an “affirmative contribution.”

The court of appeal also rejected the plaintiff’s contention that Amy’s retained the duty to provide a safe workplace by adopting procedures for internal operations.  The plaintiff had set forth a document that allegedly showed Amy’s assumed the duty to assure compliance with workplace safety. In fact, the court stated the document did not show Amy’s assumed a duty of care to the contractor’s employees.  The document stated that the contractor was obligated to comply with safety regulations.  The court reiterated the rule that retaining the ability to control safety conditions does not impose liability on a hirer.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant, Amy’s Kitchen, Inc.

At Sharifi Firm, our Southern California premises liability attorneys help individuals and their families seek compensation for injuries following an accident. We offer a no-obligation, free consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Holds No Liability for Contractor in Slip and Fall Lawsuit, Due to “Accepted Work” Doctrine, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2016

California Court of Appeal Reverses Judgment in Favor of Cable Company When Triable Issue Remains Regarding Duty to Remedy Exposed Cable, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2016

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