A California appeals court ruled Monday that a state doctrine of presumption of control over an employee’s work prevented an injured worker from suing a company that contracted with his employer to perform work.
SMC Contracting Inc. hired Tyco Simplex Grinnell Inc. to install an automatic fire sprinkler system for a development in South Lake Tahoe. Tyco employee Tommy Ray McCullar arrived at work to find the floor covered in ice. While trying to use a ladder on the ice, McCullar slipped and suffered injuries, according to the report McCullar v. SMC Contracting Inc., filed in the Court of Appeals for the 3rd District of California in Sacramento.
Mr McCullar sued SMC seeking damages. A trial judge found that the “Privatte Doctrine”; applied and granted summary judgment for SMC. That doctrine is a presumption that a tenant of an independent contractor delegates to the contractor all responsibility for workplace safety.
In affirming, the Court of Appeals explained that the Privette doctrine is based on the idea that a tenant ordinarily has no right to control how a contractor’s work is performed and hires a contractor precisely because of the contractor’s greater ability to perform the work safely and successfully.
“Although we accept, for purposes here, that SMC retained control over Tyco’s work, we are not persuaded that SMC negligently exercised its retained authority in a manner that positively contributed to McCullar’s injuries,” the court said.
SMC’s conduct may have caused ice to form and required Tyco to take extra safety measures to account for it, the court said, but “we conclude that these facts are insufficient to show that SMC’s exercise of its retained control positively contributed to McCullar’s injuries,” which he admitted he was aware of on the ice before sustaining his injuries.
The court said Tyco not only had the authority to remove the ice, it had the responsibility to take the necessary precautions to protect its employees from any dangers it posed. “Tyco did not exercise this responsibility to prevent McCullar’s injury,” the court said, and “McCullar cannot hold SMC responsible for Tyco’s own failure.”
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