ABC contracted with the landowners to use a gas station/food mart and car wash for two days to film an episode of a television show. The contract gave ABC “the right to use both the real and personal property . . . together with access to and egress from the Property with its personnel and equipment.”
The property sits on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Terra Bella Street in Sylmar, California and is surrounded by an eight-foot high metal fence. ABC planned to close the property to the public during filming and needed access through three gates to the interior food mart and the parking areas.
On the side of the property along Terra Bella Street was a parking lot, a wall, and a metal rolling gate weighing approximately 900 pounds. The gate slid along a track that ran through containment towers to keep it upright. Cal-OSHA standards require that “[a]ll horizontal sliding gates . . . be equipped with positive stops or devices that limit the gate travel to the designed fully open and closed positions.” Without stops, the gates are unsafe. The Terra Bella gate lacked stops.
ABC’s location scout, Gary Watt, visited the premises multiple times but did not inspect the gates. During his visits, Watt looked for clearly observable problems, “what they call bear traps, anything that could be a safety hazard or anything that might present a danger to cast, crew, [or] the public.” Watt did not note that the gate was in any particular state of disrepair.
ABC hired Executive Assurance to provide security for the property during filming. On the day of filming, Reina Castro, a licensed security guard employed by Executive Assurance attempted to stop the Terra Bella gate from striking a truck that was backing out. The gate fell on her causing a broken leg, multiple fractures to her left shoulder, and torn ligaments and degenerative arthritis in her knee.
Castro sued ABC Studios, Inc. to recover for for her personal injuries.The trial court granted ABC’s motion for nonsuit under Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 689 and its progeny, ruling that Castro had presented no evidence that ABC controlled the manner or mode by which its independent contractor’s employees, such as Castro, performed their work.
The Court of Appeal agreed that the Privette doctrine applies to this case and that Castro failed to adduce evidence of an exception in the unpublished case of Castro v. ABC Studios.
Subject to certain exceptions, the Privette doctrine bars employees of independent contractors from recovering damages from the hirer of the contractor for workplace injuries.
The rationale is twofold. First, because workers’ compensation insurance generally provides the exclusive remedy for employees who are injured on the job, allowing the employee to recover from the contractor’s hirer, who did not cause the injury, would unfairly subject the hirer to greater liability than that faced by the contractor who was negligent.
Secondly, by hiring an independent contractor, the hirer implicitly delegates to the contractor any tort law duty it owes to the contractor’s employees to ensure the safety of the specific workplace that is the subject of the contract.