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The California Supreme Court directed entry of judgment on behalf of Qualcomm, overturning a jury verdict awarding plaintiff $3.7 million in damages.

Plaintiff Martin Sandoval, an electrician, was injured during an inspection of circuits within switchgear at a Qualcomm plant. The inspection was conducted by Sandoval’s employer, TransPower Testing. Prior to the inspection, a Qualcomm crew powered down the circuits that were subject to the inspection, then left the switchgear room. After the Qualcomm crew left the room, TransPower’s principal directed a TransPower employee outfitted in protective gear to remove the cover from one of the circuits that remained energized during the inspection. He did not inform either Sandoval or Qualcomm that he was exposing a live electrical circuit during the inspection.  When Sandoval unsuspectingly approached the exposed live circuit with a metal tape measure, he triggered an arc flash that caused his injuries.

Notwithstanding Privette’s general rule of hirer non-liability for work-related injuries sustained by contractors’ employees and subcontractors, Sandoval sued Qualcomm, arguing that he could recover from Qualcomm on the theory that Qualcomm retained control over TransPower’s inspection in various ways. A jury agreed with Sandoval, found Qualcomm liable, and awarded Sandoval $3.7 million. The trial court granted a new trial limited to allocation of fault, but denied Qualcomm’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Court of Appeal affirmed, but the Supreme Court granted review and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, holding Qualcomm did not retain control over the portion of the work that caused Sandoval’s injury and further that it did not exercise its retained control in a manner that affirmatively contributed to Sandoval’s injuries.

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court also held that the CACI model jury instruction on the retained control doctrine (1009B) is deficient because it fails to inform juries adequately of all elements of a retained control claim, including affirmative contribution. The Court directed the Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Civil Jury Instructions to revise the instruction to conform with its decision.