Issue by: Rachel R. Ostrander
Johnson v. Raytheon
COURT OF APPEAL, SECOND DISTRICT, DIVISION 8, CALIFORNIA (MARCH 8, 2019)

In Johnson v. Raytheon Co., Inc., a subcontractor brought action an against a contractor and the hirer of the contractor for negligence and premises liability. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor. Subcontractor appealed. The Second District Court of California affirmed, holding that the hirer was not liable under tort liability or premises liability, and the contractor owed no duty to the subcontractor because the injured employee failed to meet either the Hooker or the Kinsman exceptions.

Generally speaking, Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 689, (Privette) held that when an employee of an independent contractor is hired to do dangerous work and suffers a work related injury, the employee cannot recover against the individual who retained the independent contractor. Id. at p. 692. This is subject to certain exceptions. Specifically, the Privette doctrine allows for liability when the hirer of the independent contractor retained control over safety conditions at the worksite, and negligently exercised that retained control in a manner which affirmatively contributed to the employee’s injuries. Hooker v. Department of Transportation (2002) 27 Cal.4th 198, 202 (Hooker). The second Privette exception was discussed in Kinsman v. Unocal Corp. (2005) 37 Cal.4th 659, (Kinsman). A landowner who hires an independent contractor may be liable to the contractor’s employee if that landowner knew, or should have known, of a latent or concealed preexisting hazardous condition on its property, the contractor did not know and could not have reasonably discovered this hazardous condition, and the landowner failed to warn the contractor about this condition. Id. at p. 664, fn.

In this case, plaintiff and appellant Laurence Johnson was seriously injured when he fell from a ladder at work. At the time, Johnson was employed by an independent contractor which provided maintenance engineering staff for defendant and respondent, the Raytheon Company, Inc. Raytheon was undergoing a renovation project of a water cooling tower on its premises. The prime contractor for the water cooling tower project was defendant and respondent Systems XT, Inc., with whom Raytheon had a contractual relationship. Two of Systems XT’s subcontractors were also defendants in the underlying action.

The first is Brownco Construction Company, Inc. which was the concrete subcontractor, it left the unsafe partial extension ladder at the cooling tower wall. The second is Power Edge Solutions, Inc. The water cooling tower required constant electronic monitoring of its water level. Power Edge Solutions was the subcontractor which installed electronic monitors as the water cooling tower renovation project progressed. This is relevant because Johnson alleges the alarm to which he was responding was a false alarm, which only occurred due to Power Edge Solutions’ alleged faulty wiring of the water level monitor. Despite the fact that the appellant alleged the hirer’s liability was contractual, based on the terms of the contract between Raytheon and Systems XT, the Court found no liability for failure to meet one of the only two exceptions set forth under Hooker or Kinsman. Because Plaintiff could not show either exception applied, summary judgment was proper.

COMMENT

Johnson v. Raytheon Co. Inc., Makes clear and explicit that absent one of the narrow exceptions pursuant to the Kinsman or Hooker cases, there can be no liability for the hiring of an independent contractor when an employee of that independent contractor is injured, even where there is an express contractual relationship between the two. Contractors and their counsel will need to be wary of contract provisions which may seem to raise liability of hirers given this explicitly narrow construction of the Privette doctrine.

For a copy of the complete decision, see: B281411

Share this:

© 2018 LOW, BALL & LYNCH | DISCLAIMER | PRIVACY

CONNECT WITH US: