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California Court Upholds Privette Doctrine in Construction Injury Case

In a recent decision, a California appellate court reaffirmed the strength of the Privette doctrine in shielding property owners and managers from liability for injuries to employees of their independent contractors. The case, CBRE v. Superior Court (Johnson), provides important lessons for both hirers of independent contractors and the contractors themselves.

The case arose from an injury sustained by Jake Johnson, an electrician working for subcontractor PCF Electric on a tenant improvement project. The property was owned by Property Reserve, Inc. and managed by CBRE. Johnson filed a lawsuit against the property owner/manager (Defendants), the general contractor Crew Builders, and his employer PCF Electric after being injured on the job.

Defendants moved for summary judgment based on the Privette doctrine. This doctrine generally protects entities that hire independent contractors from liability for injuries to the contractor's employees. The trial court initially denied summary judgment, but the appellate court found this was an error and that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment.

The appellate court emphasized several key points about the Privette doctrine:

No written contract is required. The doctrine is based on the implicit delegation of control and safety responsibility that occurs when a hirer turns over the worksite to the contractor, whether the agreement to do so is written or informal.

Delegation of control is presumed. By hiring an independent contractor, the hirer is presumed to have delegated complete control over the worksite and safety to the contractor.

Limited exceptions. This presumption can be overcome only in limited circumstances, such as when the hirer withholds information about a concealed hazard or retains and exercises control in a manner that affirmatively contributes to the injury. Neither exception applied here.

Permits not determinative. The property owner/manager's decision to proceed without permits did not create liability, as it did not affect how the work itself was performed or prevent the contractor from discovering any hazardous conditions.

The case is a clear reaffirmation of the strength and breadth of the Privette doctrine. It should provide reassurance to property owners and managers that they will generally not face liability for injuries to their contractors' workers, while also reminding contractors of their responsibility to control the worksite and ensure the safety of their employees.

At the Law Office of Jack Kakoian, we have extensive experience representing both property owners and contractors in complex construction injury cases. If you are facing potential liability for a worksite injury or need to protect your business, give us a call. We are here to provide the strategic counsel and forceful advocacy you need.

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