September 10, 2021
Sandoval v. Qualcomm Incorporated, S252796 (September 9, 2021)
In another decision unanimously reaffirming the Privette doctrine, the Supreme Court has once again held that a hirer of an independent contractor presumptively delegates to the contractor responsibility for work site safety and is thus generally not liable to the contractor’s employees or subcontractors for their work-related injuries.
Plaintiff Martin Sandoval, an electrician employed by TransPower Testing, sued Qualcomm for injuries he sustained during an inspection of several electrical circuits at a Qualcomm facility. Prior to the inspection, Qualcomm, which retained TransPower, powered down the specific circuits that were subject to the inspection. Unbeknownst to either Sandoval or Qualcomm, TransPower’s principal directed a TransPower employee to remove the cover from one of the circuits that remained energized during the inspection. When Sandoval 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, Sandoval argued that he could recover from Qualcomm on the theory that Qualcomm retained control over TransPower’s inspection in various ways, such as conducting the pre-inspection power-down of certain circuits. The Supreme Court rejected that contention, 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 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 CACI committee to revise the instruction to conform with its decision.
Horvitz & Levy, which has handled many Privette cases over the past 25 years, represented Qualcomm in the Sandoval case.