What Homeowners Should Know
In Zaragoza v. Ibarra (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1012, the Court clarified the issues of homeowner liability to workers hired by non-licensed contractors, and addressed the limitations on worker’s compensation as an exclusive remedy in cases dealing with employees in a residential setting.
Homeowner Maria Ibarra engaged Claudio Quiroz, an unlicensed contractor, to construct four room and two bathrooms on her premises. Quiroz hired Eliazar Zaragoza to assist him. Zaragosa was an employee of Taco Bell. Zaragoza was injured on his second day on the job. Zaragoza slipped off a ladder while trying to pull a nail out of the wall. He fell approximately nine feet and injured his knee. He sued Ibarra. The trial court granted Ibarra’s motion for summary judgment and the appellate court affirmed.
The Court held that Zaragoza’s claim qualified as “incidental to the ownership, maintenance or use” of a residential dwelling, despite the fact that the scope of the work comprised an extensive remodel. Zaragoza was classified as a residential employee under Labor Code Section 3351(d). When the worker has worked less than 52 hours in the 90 days prior to the accident, the law is clear that any claim the worker has against the homeowner for the injury is outside the ambit of the worker’s compensation system. Labor Code Section 3351(d). The worker may bring a claim against the homeowner for negligence.
The Court held that the provisions defining who qualified as a residential employee under Labor Code Section 3351(d) must be reconciled with the provisions of Insurance Code Section 11590, which requires that all personal liability policies provide worker’s compensation coverage. The Court further held that Cal-OSHA regulations did not apply to homeowners. Zaragoza could not rely on the doctrine of negligence per se (a violation of a statute) based on alleged Cal-OSHA violations.
Moreover, the Court concluded that as a matter of law there was no triable issue of fact concerning Ibarra’s negligence, since he positioned, adjusted, and climbed the ladder before he fell. There was nothing Ibarra could have done to prevent the accident. Zaragoza’s injury was entirely his own fault, and Ibarra exercised ordinary care under the circumstances.
Homeowners should be weary of non-licensed and day laborers who carry no worker’s compensation insurance. Whether it is a painter, gardener, landscaper, or handyman, ask yourself the question: Does the gardener carry his own liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance? Otherwise anything that happens on your property is your responsibility. An insured gardener may charge a bit more, but is worth the peace of mind. Next time you hire anyone to perform services on your property, make sure that person is insured, something not many homeowners think or contemplate but merely roll the dice. Make the individual working on your home produce a copy of his liability insurance certificate, and make sure it is current.