California Court Upholds Verdict in Favor of Injured Explosion Victim Against Owner/Builder of Property

Recently, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether an individual who hired a pool contractor to build a pool and spa at his home was negligent and liable for injuries suffered by one of the contractor’s employees.  In this case, the court reviewed whether the evidence supported a determination that the defendant negligently exercised control over safety conditions, and it ultimately upheld the verdict in favor of the injured plaintiff.

Jeffrey Callaghan hired Dunn’s Designer Pools, a landscape and pool contractor, to build a pool and spa at his house in Coachella Valley. He acted as the owner-builder for his property, which means he obtained the permits for the job and was responsible for the construction of the pool. A Dunn employee, Victor Regalado, was injured while installing a propane-fueled pool heater. Mr. Regalado brought a lawsuit against Mr. Callaghan for negligence and premises liability. A jury found that Mr. Callaghan had been negligent and assigned 40 percent fault to him, ultimately rendering judgment against him for $3 million.

On appeal, Mr. Callaghan contended there were multiple errors in the lower court’s decision, including that the evidence did not support a verdict of premises liability and negligence, and that the future medical costs award was improper.

The court stated that upon review of the sufficiency of the evidence, the rule is whether there is any substantial evidence in support of the judgment.  The evidence is considered in a light favorable to the prevailing party, giving them the benefit of reasonable inferences.

Here, the jury had been instructed on theories of liability, including general negligence, premises liability, and liability based on control of safety conditions.  Since the jury had not specified which theory of liability it had used, the appellate court stated that the verdict would be upheld if any theory is supported by substantial evidence.

Regarding the evidence showing that Mr. Callaghan negligently exercised his retained control over safety conditions, the court stated that the jury was required to find that Mr. Callaghan owned the property, had control over safety conditions, and negligently exercised his control, as well as that Mr. Regalado was harmed and that Mr. Callaghan’s negligent exercise of his retained control was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Regalado’s harm.  The court stated that Mr. Callaghan took issue with whether the evidence showed he retained control over safety conditions and exercised control in a negligent manner.

Here, Mr. Callaghan was responsible for obtaining permits and calling for inspections to ensure the work was performed safely. This, the appellate court stated, showed his retained control over safety conditions.  An expert for Mr. Regalado testified that not obtaining permits fell below the standard of care for an owner-builder.  Failing to go through the proper permitting and inspection process substantially caused the accident.

The court stated that while Mr. Callaghan presented conflicting evidence, it was not the duty of the Court to reweigh evidence.  Instead, conflicts were resolved in favor of the plaintiff, Mr. Regalado.

Regarding the future medical costs award, the court stated the rule that damages for a future disability are to be demonstrated through evidence that shows the disability will take place with reasonable certainty.  An award of damages must be based on more than a “possibility.”  Here, the expert testimony included the opinion that Mr. Regalado would require future surgery because he was developing hypermobility. The court stated that simply because there may be uncertainty regarding changing arthritic conditions does not preclude a finding that it was reasonably certain that future surgery would be necessary. The jury could conclude, the court stated, that it was reasonably certain Mr. Regalado would need a future spinal surgery.

The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of Mr. Regalado, the injured plaintiff.

The premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide guidance and representation to victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Defendant Property Owner Not Liable for Fatal Injuries to Tree Trimmer; California Appellate Court Affirms Judgment Holding No Breached Duty of Care, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 16, 2016

California Court of Appeal Finds Plaintiffs Failed to Show Unsafe Condition and Landlord Duty Regarding Water Heater Temperature Responsible for Burns, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 8, 2016

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