In Gravelin v. Satterfield, 200 Cal. App. 4th 1209 (2011), the Court of Appeal considered whether an independent contractor–or the employee of one–can sue the person who hired the contractor for injuries that occurred in the workplace, concluding that they cannot.

In this case, the defendants, homeowners in Mendocino County, contracted with DISH Network to replace their existing satellite dish.  DISH Network outsourced the job to Linkus Enterprises, Inc., which selected the plaintiff to perform the job.  When plaintiff arrived for the job and stepped off his ladder onto the roof, a portion of the structure collapsed, causing the plaintiff to suffer injuries.  The plaintiff thereafter sued the defendant for premises liability.

In reaching its decision as to liability, the Court of Appeal acknowledged the principle that “‘[g]enerally, when employees of independent contractors are injured in the workplace, they cannot sue the party that hired the contractor to do the work.’  The same rule applies when the independent contractor, rather than his or her employee, is injured.”

The Court further stated that “the California Supreme Court has explained why the hirer of an independent contractor is usually not held liable for injuries to the contractor or its employees.  The independent contractor ‘has authority to determine the manner in which inherently dangerous … work is to be performed, and thus assumes legal responsibility for carrying out the contracted work, including the taking of workplace safety precautions’ to protect himself and his employees.  Thus, the hirer will not be held vicariously liable for injuries resulting from the contractor’s negligence in failing to perform its task safely.  The remedy for the contractor’s injured employee is workers’ compensation, which is a cost ultimately borne by the contractor’s hirer.”

Determining that the only exceptions to this general rule–that direct liability may be imposed upon a landowner for maintaining premises with a preexisting hazardous condition or for failing to warn of that condition–were absent, the Court affirmed summary judgment for the homeowners.

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Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. is a boutique employment law firm in Los Angeles specializing in wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and unpaid wage and overtime matters.  Please visit our website at www.laemploymentcounsel.com to learn more about us.

Polina Bernstein

Polina Bernstein

Polina Bernstein founded Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. in 2009 and is lead litigation counsel at the firm.

Diana Friedland

Diana Friedland

Diana Friedland is a partner at Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. Her practice focuses on employment litigation and counseling.

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