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Are Land Owners Legally Liable For Contractors’ Injured Workers?

If you hire a contractor to perform work on your property, and one of that contractor’s employees gets injured on the job, are you liable?

Today’s blog examines this important question.

GENERALLY, LAND OWNERS ARE NOT LEGALLY LIABLE FOR INJURIES SUFFERED BY THE EMPLOYEES OF INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS HIRED TO WORK ON LAND.

In California, injured employees of an independent contractor cannot normally sue the land owner who hired the contractor. (Seabright Ins. Co. v. U.S. Airways, Inc. (2011) 52 C4th 590, 594, 129 CR3d 601, 603)

As a general rule, contractors decide and control how work is performed. Since the contractor is  the person with the “last best chance” to manage the project in a way that avoids injury to workers, the liability for workers’ injuries normally stops with the contractor–and does not pass through to the property owner who hired the contractor to perform the work. Also, the contractor has the ability to factor the potential costs of injuries to workers into the contract price for the job, and the standard remedy for workplace injuries is workers’ compensation, not private suits.

HOWEVER, IN SOME SPECIFIC SITUATIONS, LAND OWNERS CAN BE HELD LIABLE FOR INJURIES TO WORKERS AND CONTRACTORS’ EMPLOYEES.

As with many legal rules, there are exceptions to the land owner’s general lack of liability for injuries to workers on the land. In fact, there are many exceptions to the general rule in this particular case – so many that workers injured on the land of another should always consult an attorney to see whether the property owner (or the person in possession or control of the land) may actually be liable.

Property owners (and those having possession or control of land) may be liable for injuries to workers and contractors’ employees when the defendant (property owner/controller): 

— Retained control over the work.

— Failed to warn workers (or contractors) of a pre-existing hazardous condition.

— Provides defective equipment for workers or contractors.

— Hires contractors or workers to perform “inherently dangerous” work.

— Is subject to a non-delegable duty.

WHAT ARE A LAND OWNER’S NON-DELEGABLE DUTIES?

A non-delegable duty is a duty which the law says cannot be delegated (essentially, transferred or handed off) to someone else. In some cases, the law requires a person who owns or controls property to fulfill certain duties himself (or herself), and does not recognize attempts to transfer it to contractors (or any other person).

Non-delegable duties relating to property ownership and control include:

— The duty to maintain premises in safe condition.
— Duties established by regulations and laws that, by their terms, do not permit delegation.

Again, when injured while working on property that belongs to someone else, always consult an attorney promptly to obtain an evaluation of your legal rights. The general rule may not apply, and you may have a legal claim — but you can lose that claim if you delay too long.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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