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Construction Law Client Alert: Hirer Beware - When Exercising Control Over a Job Site’s Safety Conditions, You May be Held Directly Liable for an Independent Contractor’s Injury

April 6, 2011 — April 6, 2011 - By Mark VonderHaar and Yvette Davis in the Haight Brown & Bonesteel Blog

On February 24, 2011, the California Court of Appeal held in Jeffrey Tverberg, et al v. Fillner Construction, Inc. that the imposition of direct liability on a hirer turns on whether the hirer exercised retained control of worksite safety in such a manner that affirmatively contributed to the independent contractor’s injury. Twice, Tverberg, an independent contractor hired by a general contractor's subcontractor, asked the general contractor to make the job site safe by covering up open holes created by another unrelated subcontractor while Tverberg was working at the site. After Tverberg was injured at the site by falling in a hole, he sued both the general contractor and the subcontractor which had hired him.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that when the general contractor instructed another subcontractor to create a condition that was potentially dangerous (i.e., creating open and uncovered bollard holes), and simultaneously required Tverberg to perform unrelated work near the open holes, the general contractor s conduct may have constituted a negligent exercise of its retained control which affirmatively contributed to Tverberg’s injury. The Court also reasoned that the general contractor affirmatively assumed responsibility for the safety of the workers near the holes by only requiring stakes and safety ribbon, and negligently discharged that responsibility which resulted in injury.

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Reprinted courtesy of Mark VonderHaar and Yvette Davis of Haight Brown & Bonesteel. Mr. VonderHaar can be contacted at mvonderhaar@hbblaw.com and Ms. Davis at ydavis@hbblaw.com.

Construction Law Client Alert: Hirer Beware - When Exercising Control Over a Job Site’s Safety Conditions, You May be Held Directly Liable for an Independent Contractor’s Injury