The “Completed and Accepted” Doctrine has a long history in the State of California. Over fifty years ago in Kolburn v. P.J. Walker Co. (2d Dist. 1940) 38 Cal. App. 545, a California appeals court established this doctrine. This rule states that where an owner accepts the completed work under a contract, the contractor is not thereafter liable to other people who sustain damages arising from allegedly negligent construction. The reasoning behind this is that once the contractor has finished the work and the owner of the property or item has accepted the work as complete, the chain of negligence is broken. From there on out, it is up to the owner to maintain the property or work in good working condition and to prevent third parties from being injured. Essentially, the owner has “accepted” the work as “complete,” and thereafter the burden shifts to the owner.
An illustration of how this doctrine could apply to a workers’ compensation case is provided from a recent unpublished opinion out of Los Angeles. In that case, the plaintiff worked for Keogh Electric Corporation (“KEC”) on a project to build a distribution panel on top of a concrete pad for Kramar’s. The panel and pad were installed in August 2012, and the plaintiff texted his boss at KEC that “Kramar is done.” Kramar paid KEC for the work, and no other person from KEC was ever seen doing additional work on the project. The plaintiff then accepted a job from Kramar. In September 2012, the plaintiff tripped and fell into the panel and was injured. He then sued KEC for negligence. The plaintiff’s workers’ compensation insurance carried, Insurance Company of the West, intervened. KEC argued that the plaintiff could not sue, and cited the Completed and Accepted Doctrine. The appellate court agreed that the work was completed and accepted, and so the plaintiff’s lawsuit as well as that of the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was dismissed. What this means is that because the work was completed and accepted, the plaintiff could not sue the original contractor for his injuries. He was required to go through workers’ compensation against his current employer, if possible. Moreover, the insurance carrier would not be able to recover its expenses paid out under the workers’ compensation claim against the original contractor.
Workers’ compensation can result in an unusual set of facts leading to an unexpected result in terms of who should be held liable for an employee’s work-related injuries. If you have questions about workers’ compensation and your company’s liability, contact me today at (714) 252-7078 to talk about your business.