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California Court Reinforces the Duty to Warn About Work Site Hazards

A ruling from the California Court of Appeals has conclusively established the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (Cal-OSHA) as having the force of law. Importantly, one provision of Cal-OSHA requires anyone working on a worksite to report hidden hazards that they have discovered at a multi-contractor work site. If a contractor does not warn others about a discovered but non-obvious danger, the contractor may be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. Attorney Bradley Corsiglia of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P., successfully argued this appeal.

The Construction Site Case

The issue arose after two workers were severely injured at a multi-employer construction site in San Mateo County. Their injuries were caused by an ungrounded light fixture attached to an electrical circuit that was installed before they started working at the site.

A subcontractor’s employee had previously suffered an electric shock from the ungrounded light fixture but received only minor injuries. The subcontractor’s foreman knew about the incident, but he did not inform any of the other contractors or the general contractor about the existence of the light fixture’s dangerous condition.

Two employees of the general contractor were working in the area of the light fixture, unaware of its dangerous condition. One was on a ladder and received an electric shock when he came into contact with the ungrounded light fixture. He immediately fell off the ladder onto a second employee who was holding the ladder steady. Both employees were severely injured in the accident.

The employees of the general contractor sued the subcontractor in a personal injury lawsuit. They claimed the subcontractor was negligent for not warning the general contractor about the ungrounded light fixture hazard. The subcontractor argued in response that it did not have a duty to warn or protect people who work for other employers from hazards the subcontractor did not create.

The Duty to Warn on a Construction Worksite

The California Court of Appeals agreed with the employees of the general contractor. It stated that, once the subcontractor discovered a latent hazard at the project work site, it had a duty to report the hazard to the general contractor.

According to the opinion, Cal-OSHA regulations are clear that an employer who exposes or becomes aware of a hidden danger can be cited for failing to give notice of the hazard, even if the employer did not create the hazard. The court also said that the legislature intended Cal-OSHA statutes and regulations to be used “as standards for determining negligence” in personal injury lawsuits.

Therefore, the court concluded that Cal-OSHA provisions impose a duty on each contractor at a multi-contractor work site to report any non-obvious hazard it discovers because its employees were exposed to it while performing their jobs, even if the contractor in question did not create the hazard. Any contractor who breaches this duty may be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit by any worker at the site who is subsequently injured by the discovered but un-reported hazard.

This ruling reinforces Cal-OSHA’s duty to warn about work site hazards and is beneficial to workers at multi-employer job sites. If you have been injured in a construction site accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss whether you have a legal claim against another person or employer.

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