A Subcontractor May Be Liable For Failing To Warn Other Contractors And Their Employees Of Dangerous Conditions On A Job Site.
In a recent decision, Suarez v. Pacific Northstar Mechanical, the California Court of Appeal recognized an exception to the general rule that a person who observes, but did not create, a hazard is not obligated to warn others of that hazard. In Suarez, employees of a general contractor were injured when they touched an ungrounded power line. The employees sued various parties, including a subcontractor who allegedly knew of the ungrounded line. The subcontractor never worked on the ungrounded line.
The Suarez court affirmed the general rule that “a person who has not created a peril is not liable in tort merely for failure to take affirmative action to assist or protect another unless there is some relationship between them which gives rise to a duty to act.” The court concluded that there was no special relationship between the subcontractor and other contractors (or their employees).
However, the Suarez court did find another source for a legal duty to warn. The court found that Cal-OSHA provisions regulating workplace safety. The regulations imposed a duty on all employers at a job site to warn other employers of observed hazardous conditions. Based on these regulations, the Suarez court held that the subcontractor could be held liable if it knew of a dangerous condition on the job site, but failed to warn someone with authority to remedy the condition.