California Court Holds Homeowners May Be Liable for Harm to Contractor’s Employee When They Failed to Disclose Known Hazard

After suffering injuries in a fall while working in the defendants’ home, the plaintiff in a recent personal injury case before the California Court of Appeal brought causes of action for premises liability and negligence.  A lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant homeowners, but the appellate court reversed, finding that triable issues of fact remained as to whether there had been a hidden dangerous condition the owners should have disclosed, and whether the parties involved in the lawsuit acted reasonably.

The defendants in this case hired a licensed contractor to paint their home, and the plaintiff was an employee of this contractor.  While moving a cabinet in an attic, on the second floor, the plaintiff stepped on a portion of the floor covered by a thin plastic sheet and fell 10 to 12 feet to the floor, suffering serious injuries.  While he believed he had stepped onto the floor, it was in fact a poorly constructed and concealed skylight, built into the floor.

In opposition to the plaintiff’s negligence and premises liability claims, the defendants argued that they were entitled to summary judgment because the skylight was readily apparent. Additionally, they claimed they did not have a duty to protect the plaintiff against a hazard that should have been reasonably discovered.  In opposition, the plaintiff’s expert, a civil engineer, stated that the area in which the incident took place was in an unsafe condition due to the unprotected floor opening.  The lower court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the court stated that a landowner who hires an independent contractor generally delegates the responsibility of supervising the job and looking after employee safety.  However, when there is a hazard that is not known by the contractor but known by the landowner, the rule is different.   Even when a landowner does not retain control over the contractor’s employee, if they know or should know of a concealed, pre-existing dangerous condition, but the contractor does not know and would not know, and the landowner fails to warn the contractor, the landowner may be liable for the resulting harm.

In this particular case, a thin plastic cover hid a large hole in the defendants’ home. They knew that there was no flooring under the plastic and that it would not prevent someone from falling. The contractor did not know of the hole, nor were they warned of the hole. Furthermore, the court stated that the contractor had been instructed to move a cabinet from the attic, where the hole was located, without warning of any potential danger.

The plaintiff’s expert had concluded that the hole in the attic floor was a dangerous and concealed latent defect.  The court stated that this declaration is to be liberally construed at the summary judgment stage. The expert had listed facts upon which he based his conclusions, and the court stated that the evidence showed a triable issue of fact regarding whether there was a hidden dangerous condition that the owners should have disclosed.

The court rejected the defendants’ claim that they delegated to the contractor the duty to protect his employees.  Here, there was an undisclosed hazard, and the landowners could not effectively delegate this responsibility. The court also noted that the contractor had not investigated the attic closet before working because he believed his crew would not work in that area.

The premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm help injured people throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation.  If you or someone close to you has been hurt in an accident, we can provide legal guidance and skilled advocacy.  To schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney, call us at (866) 422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Imputes Knowledge of Dangerous Condition to Defendant Landlords, Overturns Judgment in their Favor, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 13, 2017

Fatal Stabbing in Mobile Park Home Not Foreseeable, California Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Landlord in Lawsuit Alleging Negligence, Wrongful Death, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 2, 2017

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