Vebr v. Culp

Facts: A homeowner hires a contractor to paint the interior of their home. The employment agreement states the contractor is to provide worker’s compensation insurance if they hire employees for the project. The contractor hires an employee but does not obtain workers’ compensation insurance, then commences work. No hazardous conditions exist on the worksite and all the equipment the employee uses is properly functional. When the owner is not present, the employee falls off a ladder and sustains an injury.

Claim: The employee seeks money losses from the owner, claiming the owner was negligent and is responsible for medical expenses and lost wages due to the injury since the contractor did not provide workers’ compensation insurance, automatically suspending the contractor’s license, and is thus not operating as a licensed contractor but as an employee of the owner.

Counterclaim: The owner claims they are not responsible for the medical expenses and lost wages since they did not act negligently as they were not present at the time the employee fell and no hazardous conditions or faulty equipment were present.

Holding: A California court of appeals holds the owner is not liable for the employee’s injury since there is no evidence of the owner’s negligence due to hazardous conditions or faulty equipment and thus they did not cause the injury. [Vebr v. Culp (2015) 241 CA4th 1044]

Editor’s note – In this case, the employee had no veritable proof the owner was negligent or contributed to their fall in any way. Thus, the owner was not liable for injuries, since the employee’s fall was simply an accident. However, a homeowner may be liable for injuries if they employ an uninsured contractor and an employee of the contractor is injured as a result of negligence on the worksite.

If an independent contractor does not obtain workers’ compensation insurance as required by law when hiring subcontractors or employees, the contractor’s license is automatically suspended. Uninsured and unlicensed, the contractor becomes the employee of the owner – shifting the liability for injury to the owner as employer. [Calif. Business and Professions Code §7125.2; Calif. Labor Code §2750.5]