LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – On July 20, a California appeals court upheld a lower court’s summary judgment in favor of Evergreen Container Terminal and two of its contractors in a negligence lawsuit filed by a marine mechanic allegedly injured while performing maintenance at a marine container terminal leased by the company.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Division Eight, unanimously upheld a lower court’s summary judgment in favor of Evergreen and its contractors, Seaside Transportation Services LLC and Marine Terminals Corp., doing business as Ports America, in a negligence lawsuit filed by Bernie Alvarez.
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Alvarez was a marine mechanic employed by Pacific Crane Maintenance Co. (PCMC) and allegedly was injured when he drove a maintenance van into a shipping container.
Alvarez sued Evergreen, Seaside and Ports America for negligence, alleging their placement of the shipping container obstructed his driving lane and caused the accident leading to his injuries. The appeals panel upheld the trial court’s summary judgment in the defendants’ favor based on its application of the Privette doctrine, from the California Supreme Court case Privette v. Superior Court (1993), which states that “an independent contractor’s employee generally may not recover tort damages for work-related injuries from the contractor’s hirer.”
The March 2012 accident occurred when Alvarez drove his maintenance van into a 45-foot shipping container jutting out from a row of 40-foot shipping containers. Alvarez sustained injuries to his lower back, right shoulder and both knees. In March 2014, Alvarez sued Evergreen, Seaside and Ports America for allegedly negligently placing the trailer in the path of his driving lane.
Since PCMC hired Evergreen, and Evergreen hired Seaside and Ports America, PCMC was technically in charge of the workplace. Therefore, the trial court ruled that Evergreen, Seaside, and Ports America were all protected as contractors under the Privette doctrine, making Workers’ Compensation through PCMC the only remedy available concerning Alvarez’s reported injuries.
Alvarez appealed, alleging that the defendants did not meet the legal burden placed on parties seeking summary judgment, and claiming “triable issues of material fact as to whether the Privette doctrine did not apply because defendants retained control over safety conditions at the worksite and affirmatively contributed to his injuries.”
In his written opinion on behalf of judges Madeleine Flier and Elizabeth Grimes, Judge Douglas Sortino, visiting on special appointment from the Los Angeles Superior Court, found that Alvarez did not meet his burden of summary judgment, because “PCMC was responsible for its employees’ safety on the job” and Alvarez “did not raise a triable issue of fact suggesting either that defendants exercised the power to control the manner of performance of plaintiff’s work or that they promised (and failed) to undertake any safety measures at the worksite.”