In a recent unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether a contractor could be held liable for injuries to an individual after the completion of their work. The lower court had granted the defendant contractor’s summary judgment motion, based on the affirmative defense of the “completed and accepted” doctrine, dismissing the plaintiff’s negligence and fraud action. This doctrine holds that once an owner has accepted the sufficiency of work performed by a contractor, that contractor can no longer be held liable to third parties for resulting injuries.
The plaintiff worked for Keogh Electric Corp. (“KEC”) as a foreman on a project to erect a distribution panel that sat atop an elevated concrete pad and would serve as a new metal shredder at Kramar’s Iron & Metal, Inc. (“Kramar’s”). In August 2012, the panel and pad were installed at Kramar’s. The plaintiff texted Douglas Keogh that “Kramar is done” on August 25, 2012, and later testified that this meant that KEC’s work on that project had been completed.
The plaintiff then accepted a job at Kramar’s. He did not see anyone from KEC performing more work at Kramar’s, nor did he see anyone request that more work be performed on the electrical distribution panel. Kramar paid KEC in full for the work.
On September 18, 2012, the plaintiff tripped on the concrete pad and fell into the electrical panel, suffering injuries. He brought a complaint against KEC and Mr. Keough for negligence and misrepresentation, seeking punitive damages. He contended that the panel had posed a tripping hazard and violated the California Electric Code. The plaintiff’s workers’ compensation carrier, Insurance Company of the West, intervened in the case.
After the defendants moved for summary judgment, based on the affirmative defense of the “completed and accepted” doctrine, the court granted their motion. The plaintiff and ICW appealed, arguing that the trial court erred.
The Court of Appeal stated the rule that once an owner accepts the work completed by a contractor, that owner cannot be liable to third parties who suffer injuries from dangerous defects. This is known as the “completed and accepted” doctrine, and the policy rationale is that when an owner inspects the work, liability for the safety of the work shifts to the owner, provided they completed a reasonable inspection that would have disclosed the defect.
First, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the completed and accepted doctrine had been abrogated, or repealed, years ago by the California Supreme Court. Furthermore, the court stated that the factors that determine whether work is in fact completed and accepted include whether the owner asserted control, whether the contract was discharged, when the work had been completed, and when the owner walked through the structure and opened it to the public, as well as other factors.
In this case, the Court stated that KEC’s work had been completed and accepted. As of the date of August 30, 2012, the Court stated that the distribution panel and concrete pad on which it sat had been installed. The plaintiff had texted that “Kramar is done,” and the Court stated that this meant the project was complete. KEC had not been informed that the concrete pad was in need of correction or repair. KEC left the premises and had demonstrated completion, shifting the burden to the plaintiff to raise a material factual dispute.
The plaintiff contended that texting “Kramar is done” did not show that KEC’s work had been completed. But the Court examined the minimal evidence submitted by the plaintiff and rejected it as insufficient.
Regarding whether Kramar had accepted KEC’s work before the plaintiff suffered injuries, the Court stated that the evidence showed that Kramar’s had inspected the equipment and concrete, paid KEC in full, and taken control of the electrical panel on the concrete slab. Kramar’s had accepted KEC’s work before the plaintiff was injured.
In concluding, the Court stated the defendants established the “completed and accepted” doctrine should apply, since each element had been met. The plaintiff had not demonstrated a triable issue of fact or a reason not to apply the doctrine. The trial court had not erred when it summarily adjudicated the negligence cause of action.
The Court affirmed the judgment on appeal.
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