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Liability limited for on-site injury to Independent Contractor

On September 9, 2021, the California Supreme Court ruled on Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc., further strengthening the protection for those who hire contractors to perform work on their premises. In this case, Qualcomm hired a contractor to service electrical equipment on their premises. The Plaintiff, an employee of the contractor and an electrical parts specialist, was injured while performing his duties on the premises. The Supreme Court ruled that Qualcomm owed no duty to the Plaintiff because they neither failed to sufficiently disclose the hazard, did not contribute to the injury, and ultimately delegated to the contractor all responsibility for the safety of the contractor’s workers.

The Supreme Court reasoned contractors are generally hired for their expertise in an area that is not the expertise of the hirer, and the contractor bears the responsibility of maintaining safety in the work area for its employees.

However, this does not mean that all hirers are off the hook for liability caused by injuries on their own premises. The Supreme Court revisited two general exceptions to this rule, the first being where the hirer withholds critical information regarding a concealed hazard (latent defect – see related article – “A Look at a recent L.A. County Nuclear Verdict.”); or when the hirer retains control over the contractor’s work and actually exercises that control in a way that affirmatively contributes to the worker’s injury.

When faced with this situation, multiple factors are considered in determining who was really in control of the worksite and injured person, and what conduct could be traced to have contributed to the injury. It is important for a person or business who is approached with a contractor injured on their premises to seek counsel knowledgeable in premises liability/failure re to warn cases to determine if you really owe a duty to the Plaintiff.