Airline's safety violations clear path to pursue reimbursement
Case name: Seabright Insurance Co. v. U.S. Airways, Inc., et al., No. A123726 (Cal. Ct. App. 03/29/10).
Ruling: The California Court of Appeal held that a workers' compensation carrier could pursue a subrogation claim against U.S. Airways for injuries suffered by an employee of an independent contractor. It reversed an award of summary judgment in favor of the airline.
What it means: An airline may not delegate its duty to provide safety guards on conveyor belts to the independent contractor responsible for maintaining the belts. As a result, where there is a factual question as to whether the lack of guards caused injury to the contractor's employee, the workers' compensation carrier for the contractor may pursue a claim for subrogation against the airline.
Summary: While working for an independent contractor to maintain and repair conveyor belts, the employee's arm became caught in a moving conveyor that had no shields or cover. The San Francisco International Airport owned the conveyor belts, but U.S. Airways used them under a permit and had an exclusive arrangement with the independent contractor to have the belts maintained. The workers' compensation carrier for the contractor sued several parties, including the airline, contending that it breached its duty to provide a safe working environment and provide adequate warnings and safety devices. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's award of summary judgment in the airline's favor, finding evidence that the airline was negligent and that the lack of safety guards caused the employee's injuries.
The airline contended that it was not liable for the accident because it delegated responsibility for the upkeep of the conveyor belts to the independent contractor. The Court of Appeal explained that certain duties imposed by statute are not delegable, including the duty to provide guards for conveyors and their moving parts and to provide adequate lighting. Nevertheless, U.S. Airways would not be liable unless its conduct affirmatively contributed to the employee's injuries. The contribution need not be "in the form of actively directing the contractor or employee," the court said, as contribution can happen by omission.
The court concluded that there was evidence the airline violated safety regulations and that the violation created "a hazard to anyone in the area." Because a factual question existed as to whether the unsafe condition caused the employee's injury, it was improper to award summary judgment to the airline.
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May 27, 2010
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