- Homeowner Not Liable For Injuries to Worker of an Unlicensed Contractor.
The law is unsettled as to whether unlicensed contractor’s workers must be deemed employees of the homeowner who hires the unlicensed contractor. Remember the case of an employee who fell from a palm tree in Glendora and was severely injured. That employee was working for a non licensed contractor. That unlicensed contractor had given a job proposal and a business card showing a license number as a contractor. In fact, the license number was the city business license as the owner of the business was never a licensed contractor. Any tree trimming for trees 10 feet and above requires a contractor’s license. In the Glendora case the homeowner was found liable to the injured worker even though the homeowner was misled by the owner of the business as to whether the owner of the business had a contractor’s license.
Now fast forward to the case of Vebr vs. Culp, 241 Cal App 4th 1044. In this case Culp, the homeowner owned a home in the City of Orange. Culp signs a contract with OC Wide Painting to paint the inside of his house. The contract identified what inside surfaces were to be painted and left how it would be painted up to the contractor. The contractor provided all materials, paint, ladders, tools and employees to do the job. At the time the contract was signed the contractor had a valid contractor’s license.
After the painting job started the contractor subbed some of the work out to additional painters without obtaining workers compensation insurance for these additional painters he hired. The failure to obtain workers compensation insurance results in a statutory suspension of the contractor’s license sua sponte pursuant to Business and Professions Code 7125 and Business and Professions Code 7143 [In fact if one does not have a contractor’s license the contractor is prohibited from seeking compensation for such work and the consumer is entitled to full reimbursement for all payment to the unlicensed contractor for work already performed. See Business and Professions Code 7031].
Three of the additional painters that the contractor hired commenced painting an 18 foot ceiling. Naturally one of the painters on the extension ladder fell while the other two additional painters were attempting to secure the ladder. The employee was seriously injured.
There was no evidence that the homeowner was negligent. Specifically, the homeowner didn’t provide the ladder and was not present at the time of the fall and there was not a hazardous condition on the property that caused the fall. Despite those facts the employee sued the homeowner because his employer did not have workers compensation insurance and therefore had no contractor’s license. The homeowner won on a Summary Judgment wherein the trial court held that there was no negligence by the homeowner.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the Summary Judgment holding that in the absence of evidence of negligence on the part of the homeowner the employee had no viable tort claim against the homeowner.
There are conflicting rulings on this important issue that the California Supreme Court probably needs to resolve or, in the alternative, the California Legislature needs to resolve. If you have an innocent homeowner who makes reasonable inquiries regarding the license status of the contractor and reasonably believes the contractor to be licensed the homeowner should not be held liable.
The more difficult question that needs to be resolved is what happens if the homeowner knowingly hires an unlicensed contractor for any injuries to the unlicensed contractor or to the workers of the unlicensed contractor. Under that factual situation the homeowner is liable for any injuries that occur to the workers while working at his home.
Just imagine having your gardener, who is not a licensed contractor, trim your trees that are over 10 feet tall. The gardener falls from the ladder and is injured. You, as the homeowner, could be held liable because you knew the gardener was not a licensed contractor. The same potential devastating scenario occurs with hiring a handyman to do work around your house that requires a contractor’s license and they or their employees become injured on the job.
About the Author
Scott Souders is a real estate attorney who has practiced real estate law in excess of 42 years in Southern California. The Real Estate Law Update cites cases or statutes which are summarized and should not be relied upon without fully reading the cases or statute in the advance sheets and shepardizing the same and consulting with your own attorney.