The Privette Doctrine and Alvarez v. Seaside Transportation Services LLC

Workers’ compensation rules apply to almost every single employer across the state of California.  There are some industries that are more inherently dangerous than others, and so tend to have more workers’ compensation issues.  The construction industry tends to be one of these, as the very nature of the business requires working with heavy machinery, open trenches, electrical wires, and an enormous variety of dangerous conditions not present in, for example, an office setting.  In Privette v. Superior Court, the court developed a particular doctrine discussing the liability of owners and sub-contractors in the construction field.  The Privette Doctrine holds that in general, contractors and project owners are not liable for tort damages in work-related injuries sustained by the independent contractors hired by the lower-tiered contractors.  The reasoning for this is that those employees should already be covered by the insurance of their direct employers.  A recent case discusses the Privette Doctrine and its application.

In Alvarez v. Seaside Transportation, the plaintiff was injured on the job.  He drove his work van into a shipping container while on the job site.  When he was injured, he was employed by Pacific Crane Maintenance Company, who was in turn hired by Evergreen Container Terminal for the purpose of performing maintenance on its marine container terminal.  The plaintiff sued Evergreen and two if its contractors, alleging they were negligent in the placement of their containers.  The defendants asked the court for summary judgment in their favor, citing the Privette Doctrine.  The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.  On appeal, he argued that he should have been permitted to proceed to trial, as he raised issues of material fact over whether the Privette Doctrine applied in his case at all, as the defendants retained control over the safety conditions at the work site, which is a theory by which some plaintiffs may proceed with a tort case despite the Privette Doctrine.  The appellate court agreed with the defendants.  In these types of cases, a plaintiff may still be able to proceed with a tort case if he or she can prove that the contractor did not fully delegate the task of safety to the lower-tiered subcontractor who hired the independent contractor.  In this case, the plaintiff’s mere allegations that such was the situation here did not meet his burden of proof, and the trial court was correct to grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Construction cases are highly nuanced and require a skilled attorney.  I have experience in assisting my employees with their businesses in these types of cases.  Feel free to contact us  at (714) 516-8188 if you have  questions in this field.

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