California Construction Site Negligence 

Construction sites are busy places. Trailers, hard hats, heavy machinery, materials, and tools come together to make what can, from the outside, look like a big mess. But general contractors make sure there is order to all of that chaos — it’s an important job that comes with a lot of responsibility.

So, what happens when a subcontractor is careless or negligent and an injury results? Is the general contractor responsible?

The answer to those questions is usually about as clear as a puddle of mud. But our Costa Mesa personal injury lawyer at Case Barnett Law is here to add some clarity to your situation. Read on to learn when a general contractor might be responsible for subcontractor negligence, as well as a few other important considerations. And if you have a case that could use some legal help, reach out to our trusted team of attorneys today.

construction site worker with crutches after injury in costa mesa

Duties of General Contractors

To begin to understand when a general contractor may be liable for negligence on the part of a subcontractor, we need to first define the duties of general contractors on most construction projects. In most cases, general contractors are responsible for the following:

  • Vetting and hiring subcontractors
  • Managing the construction schedule
  • Overseeing daily job site operations
  • Material and vendor sourcing
  • Equipment rentals and purchases

These job duties provide a solid starting point for assessing when a general contractor may have liability for subcontractor negligence. A failure in any of these duties does not confirm that the general contractor was somehow negligent, but it certainly can help in your pursuit of compensation for the resulting damages.

Are California General Contractors Employers?

In many cases, employers are legally responsible for their employees’ negligent actions in California. A great example of this legal concept — called respondeat superior — in action can be seen with commercial trucking accidents. Often, the truck driver’s employer can be sued for the driver’s negligent actions that led to an accident.

So, are general contractors employers of subcontractors? This is a subject of heated debate in California courts and other public forums, but in some cases, it is likely that a court would view a subcontractor as a general contractor’s employee

For example, here are a few scenarios in which a subcontractor might be deemed a general contractor’s employee:

  • The subcontractor is not licensed with the Contractors State Licensing Board.
  • There is no written sub-contractual agreement between the general contractor and subcontractor.
  • The subcontractor is not allowed to perform their work in the way they see fit.
  • The subcontractor does not operate a business that offers the services in question on a regular basis.

When Is a General Contractor Responsible for Subcontractor Negligence?

If it becomes clear that there was technically an employer-employee relationship between the general contractor and subcontractor, then the general contractor likely would be considered liable for the subcontractor’s negligence under California law. But this isn’t the only time when a subcontractor’s negligence could land a general contractor in legal hot water.

For example, it is a general and relatively well-known rule that you shouldn’t have two trades working in the same part of the construction site at the same time. This is meant to prevent electricians and carpenters, for instance, from crossing paths in a way that could lead to a worksite injury.

So, what if an injury occurs because the general contractor scheduled two subcontractors to work on the same part of the job site at the same time? In such a case, the general contractor may well be liable.

It’s also important to remember that, in many cases, a lawsuit to recover compensation for a construction site injury might name both a subcontractor and a general contractor as defendants. There are plenty of scenarios in which these parties might share the blame for an injury, and that shouldn’t stop you from recovering the full amount of compensation you’re entitled to.

two construction workers walking on beam after one is injured

Who Else Might Be Liable? 

While general contractor liability for subcontractor negligence is an important topic if you have been injured on a construction site, it would be a mistake to consider only these two parties when trying to understand who should compensate you for your injuries. That’s because various other parties could be liable.

For example, what if a subcontractor acted negligently and injured you with a piece of heavy machinery on the job site, and a safety mechanism on the tool failed to engage and prevent the accident? In this case, the manufacturer of the equipment that failed could bear a portion of the liability for what happened to you and, therefore, be obligated to compensate you.

If it isn’t already obvious at this point, it is important to note: Understanding and assigning liability in construction site accidents is difficult at best and virtually impossible at worst. That is why so many people in situations similar to yours call on a trusted construction accident lawyer for help. 

Despite any murkiness surrounding who is liable, an experienced attorney can gather evidence and build a strong legal argument that gives you a real shot at recovering compensation for your injuries and other damages.

Dealing with Contractor Negligence? Contact Our Orange County Personal Injury Attorney

Is the general contractor responsible for subcontractor negligence? The answer depends on a wide variety of details that are unique to your situation, and that’s why it can be so helpful to reach out to an attorney who is qualified to review your case and forge a legal path for you to recover the compensation you deserve.

At Case Barnett Law, we understand just how confusing construction accident cases can be, especially when there are multiple parties involved. We have made a name for our firm by dissecting complex accident cases, finding who is liable, and recovering fair compensation for our client's injuries. We’re prepared to do that for you, too.

You can find out whether you have a valid case at no cost to you. That’s because we offer free consultations. To request a free consultation with our Orange County workers' comp attorney team, reach out by calling 949-409-0055 or filling out the online contact form below. We have been proudly servicing clients throughout Costa Mesa, California, and the surrounding areas.

Case C. Barnett
Costa Mesa Personal Injury Attorney practicing in child injury law, car accident injuries and elder abuse law
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