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Liability to Contractor’s Employees

The California Supreme Court recently issued an opinion addressing the extent of liability parties have to the employees of hired contractors.

Jack hires Jill Inc. to have his lawns mowed.  When Jill’s employee hurts himself on Jack’s lawn, is Jack liable?  What if Jack had violated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines on how razor-sharp he can keep his blades of grass?  What if Jack’s own employee, Albert, hurt himself in the same way as Jill’s employee and received workers’ compensation benefits?

The skinny:  a party owes no duty to the employees of its contractors.  Even if two workers get hurt in the same event, the big boss is on the hook only for his own worker, not the employee of the contractor.

US Airways hired a contractor to maintain and operate a conveyor at San Francisco International Airport.  One of the contractor’s employees injured his arm inspecting the conveyor.  As it turns out, the conveyor “lacked certain safety guards required by applicable regulations.”  Fortunately, it wasn’t a back sprain while gently removing luggage from the conveyor.

The Court of Appeals held that the violation of an OSHA safety regulation imposes liability upon US Airways.  According to the Court of Appeals, observing OSHA safety regulations is a non-delegable duty.

The Supreme Court reversed, relying on its opinion in Privette v. Superior Court.  The Court re-affirmed the rule that a hirer owes no duty to the employees of the contractor.

Will this apply to the Workers’ Comp world?  Time will tell how Workers’ Compensation Judges respond to this ruling.  But I have a feeling that the world of Serious and Willful defense will never be the same.

Categories: Defenses
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