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California Supreme Court limits liability for independent contractor’s injuries

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in Compensation and Benefits,Hiring,Human Resources

The California Supreme Court has issued a decision in a closely watched construction liability case that involved an independent contractor’s injury. It concluded that true independent contractors working in construction are responsible for making sure the workplace is safe and can’t claim that the hiring contractor or owner was liable for any resulting injuries.

Recent case: Jeffrey Tverberg ran his own construction company; its sole employee was Tverberg. He was hired by a subcontractor to work on a commercial fuel facility. A general contractor had hired the subcontractor.

Tverberg fell into an open hole that another contractor had dug. He knew about the hole and had asked for it to be covered. As such, it was a known risk and an obvious workplace danger.

Tverberg sued the general contractor, alleging that it was liable for his injuries.

But the California Supreme Court disagreed. It said that an independent contractor controls the way a job is performed and is responsible for safety. Therefore, the independent contractor can’t blame someone else for an injury. (Tverberg v. Fillner Construction, No. S169753, Supreme Court of California, 2010)

Final note: Be careful about reading this case too broadly. Check with your attorney to see if independent contractors that aren’t in the construction business are similarly responsible for their own injuries while on your premises. Your lawyer can offer ideas for structuring your independent contractor agreements to take advantage of the ruling. That may involve giving greater freedom to independents.

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