Construction Site Injuries and the Privette Doctrine

July 9th, 2020

Getting injured on the job can have severe repercussions that can affect the injured worker’s life. Generally, California case law precludes workers from seeking compensation from a general contractor or property owner in a civil lawsuit. This is commonly known as the “Privette Doctrine”. Fortunately, the Privette Doctrine does not always apply to bar civil claims. If the incident falls under an exception to the Privette Doctrine, a worker may be able to proceed with a claim if the general contractor’s negligence led to the worker’s injury.

Privette Doctrine

The Privette Doctrine arises from the California Supreme Court case Privette v. Superior Court, (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 689. In that case, the owner of a duplex hired a roofing company to install a new tar and gravel roof on the duplex. During the construction, the hot tar injured an employee of the roofing company. The injured employee filed a lawsuit naming the owner of the duplex as a defendant. The Supreme Court ultimately held that the plaintiff could sue the hirer of an independent contractor who had no fault in the injury, when the plaintiff’s employer, an independent contractor, carried proper worker’s compensation. Id. at 692. In general, the rule is meant to prevent injured workers from seeking compensation outside of worker’s compensation. As such, it is often used by general contractors or landowners to avoid liability on a third-party claim. Fortunately, the Privette Doctrine does not provide a blanket defense. There are situations in which it does not prevent a suit against the general contractor or landowner.

When does Privette not Apply?

Luckily for injured workers, the Privette Doctrine does not give general contractors a “free pass” from all liability. If the general contractor’s negligence causes the worker’s injuries, the injured worker may still hold the general contractor liable. The following are some scenarios where the Privette Doctrine does not apply:

· If the general contractor or landowner knew or should have known of a hazard at the construction site, the subcontractor did not and could not have reasonably discovered the hazard, and the general contractor or landowner did not warn of the hazard.

Example: the general contractor is aware of an electrical hazard but failed to warn the landscaping subcontractor of the electrical hazard.

· If the general contractor or landowner directed the subcontractor to complete the work unsafely.

Example: the general contractor directed a tree trimming subcontractor to trim the branches off a tree in violation of tree trimming’s general safety practices, causing injuries to one of the tree trimming employees.

· If the general contractor provided the subcontractor with unsafe equipment.

Example: the general contractor provided a demolition subcontractor with a defective bobcat that causes injury to the demolition employee.

· If a general contractor promised to perform a function but failed to do so.

Example: the general contractor promised that they would rid a home of asbestos but failed to do so before an electrical worker goes inside to re-wire the home.

· If the general contractor breaches a statutory or regulatory duty that is directly in place for the protection of others.

Example: the general contractor fails to have a fire extinguisher readily available during a fire.

Seeking Compensation from another Subcontractor

Workers can also pursue a claim against another subcontractor that is negligent in causing injury to the worker. If another subcontractor’s negligence leads to your injury, you may be able to pursue a civil claim.

A worker can seek compensation from both the general contractor and another subcontractor if both of their negligence led to a worker’s injury. In California, each party is liable for their percentage of fault. For example, a general contractor can be found 60% at fault for the worker’s injury, and the subcontractor can be found 40% at fault for the worker’s injury, for a total of 100%.

Succeeding in a third party personal injury claim takes a track record of success. Insurance companies have strategies in place to pay the least amount possible, despite the needs of the injured. Here at Kramer Trial Lawyers, we have the experience and the track record to seek justice for your injuries. In April 2018, we were able to give our client who had been injured on a construction site a Jury Verdict for nearly 3 million.

If you or a loved one has been harmed on a construction site, KTL is here to help.