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Edward Younan began working in the food truck business in 1975 as a driver. He and his wife eventually owned between 50 and 60 trucks. Younan acquired Avalon Foods, Inc, a food truck commissary, in 1999.

Food trucks are required to park at a “certified commissary,” such as Avalon, and Avalon charges its customers for “housing space” (i.e., a parking spot), electricity, security, and ice. At the time of trial, Avalon owned only “maybe a couple” food trucks, which were not usually on the road, but served as spares.

Jorge GuzmanJr. began working on food trucks in approximately 1992. He was the driver and cashier. His job duties included “driv[ing to] the stops where they go, sell[ing] food, . . . tak[ing] the money, get[ting] change” and “driv[ing] to the next stop.”

At the time of the accident, Guzman drove a food truck owned by Philma Alvarez. Philma parked her trucks at Avalon during the relevant time period.

On January 11, 2014, after the truck completed its business at one of its stops, the cook on the truck asked Guzman to retrieve a table from outside. When Guzman stepped outside, a car hit him, resulting in serious injuries.

Following the accident, Guzman filed a civil complaint against Philma and Hector Chavez. Guzman later named Avalon and Younan as defendants. The operative complaint alleged that, on January 11, 2014, while Guzman was employed by “defendants,” “[t]he employee manager negligently instructed [Guzman] to retrieve a serving table in a manner that subjected [Guzman] to extreme danger of, and resulted in, [Guzman] being struck by a car and severely injured.”

Guzman brought the lawsuit under Labor Code section 3706, which permits an injured employee to file a civil complaint for damages against an employer who “fails to secure the payment of compensation” to the injured employee. Avalon and Younan answered the complaint, and, as relevant here, asserted no employment relationship existed between them and Guzman.

At the close of plaintiff’s case-in-chief, defendants orally moved for nonsuit and the court took the motion “under advisement”. On October 24, 2019, the jury returned a verdict finding both Younan and Avalon were Guzman’s employers at the time of the accident. Phase 2 of the trial was for damages, and a second jury awarded Guzman $8,245,034.00. Following trial, Avalon and Younan moved for JNOV and a new trial, and the trial court denied the JNOV, and granted a new trial on allocation of damages between defendants.

The Court of Appeal reversed the order denying Avalon and Younan’s JNOV motion, and direct the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Avalon and Younan in the unpublished case of Guzman v Younan -B317573 (February 2024).

During trial, Guzman repeatedly and unambiguously testified he worked exclusively for Philma at the time of the accident. For example, in response to defendants’ counsel’s question, “But you stopped ” at least your testimony is you stopped working for [Younan] in 2013 and worked exclusively with Philma, is that not correct?” Guzman replied that was correct. Guzman testified that, before the accident, in 2013, he worked for Younan doing the “same thing I did with Philma.”

When Guzman worked for Philma at the end of 2013 through the time of his injury in 2014, Philma told Guzman what to do and where to go. If the truck broke down, or Guzman was sick and he could not work, he called Philma. Neither Avalon nor Younan paid Guzman when he worked for Philma, and he never reported to anyone at Avalon while working for Philma. Guzman further testified that he did not wear a uniform when he worked for Philma, but when he worked for Younan he was required to wear a shirt Younan provided him.

The Court of Appeal concluded that “the record contains no evidence that Guzman was employed by Avalon or Younan on the date of the accident; rather, the evidence merely demonstrates that Guzman may have driven a truck for Avalon and Younan at some point in 2013, before the accident occurred.”