Liability In Workplace Injury

By Sam K. Abdulaziz &
Kenneth S. Grossbart
Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman

The case of Brannan v. Lathrop Construction Associations, Inc. deals with the issue of workplace injury liability. On this particular project, Lathrop Construction Associates, Inc. ("Lathrop") was the direct contractor on a school construction project. One of the subcontractors that Lathrop hired was Bratton Masonry ("Bratton"), for the masonry work. Bratton employed Brian Brannan ("Brannan") as a journeyman bricklayer for this school construction project.


The subcontract between Lathrop and Bratton required Bratton to comply with all State and Federal Health and Safety requirements, both contractors' safety procedures and to maintain a safety program on site. These requirements were true for all of Bratton's subcontractors on this project. Lathrop's onsite project manager was in charge of managing the safety on the site as well as coordination of the work. However, Bratton had the right to stop work if safety was ever an issue.


As discussed between the parties, the plastering was to be done before the masonry. However, some of the plastering scaffolding was left in place upon the request of some of the framers that were in need of framing a bridge between two buildings. Bratton never requested that the scaffolding be removed and continued its work around the scaffolding at ground level laying brick veneer in the area.


Brannan slipped on wet scaffolding thereby inuring his back when, on his own accord because he felt there was no other way to access this part of the jobsite, he attempted to climb over some of the scaffolding in order to get to the masonry work to be done underneath the scaffolding. Because the fall was at work and the scaffolding impaired access to the job site and was wet because of weather conditions, Brannan filed not only a workers' compensation claim, but also a complaint in the Superior Court alleging that Lathrop was negligent in its safety duties as well as premises liability.


Lathrop filed a Motion for Summary Judgment based on the Privette-Toland Doctrine and succeeded. This Privette-Toland Doctrine indicates: "Generally, when employees of independent contractors are injured in the workplace, they cannot sue the party that hired the contractor to do the work..." Therefore, the direct contractor is not liable for the injuries that occur to any subcontractor's employees.

Since Brannan was an employee of a subcontractor (Bratton) Brannan was already covered by the worker's compensation insurance scheme. Because there was no evidence that Lathrop knew any of the masonry workers were climbing around the scaffolding or that there was any safety hazard at all and further that Lathrop did not actually direct Brannan to access the site in the manner that he did, the separate tort claim against the direct contractor was also unsuccessful, since Brannan was not able to show that the prime contractor actually contributed to his injury. The Appellate Court upheld the trial court's decision to award the Summary Judgment to Lathrop.


Sam Abdulaziz has been practicing construction law for over 35 years, and is considered one of the premiere experts in construction law, including California contracting license laws. He is the author of "California Construction Law." Kenneth Grossbart is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in California construction law. Over the past 30 years, Ken has become a respected speaker on Mechanic's Liens and other construction related issues. Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman provides this information as a service to its friends & clients and it does not establish an attorney-client relationship with the reader. This document is of a general nature and is not a substitute for legal advice. Since laws change frequently, contact an attorney before using this information. Ken Grossbart and Sam Abdulaziz can be reached at Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman: (818) 760-2000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (818) 760-2000      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or by E-Mail at, or at

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