Thursday, August 02, 2018

Jones v. Sorenson (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 2, 2018)

Justice Duarte is so, so right.  Most homeowners have no idea of the trouble they can get into when they hire someone to do pretty much anything around the house.

Here's what she says about the thing.  Plus a brief primer on the crucial difference between hiring a "gardener" as opposed to a "nurseryperson":

"Despite the prevalence of “do-it-yourself” manuals and television shows, most homeowners eventually decide that some home repairs or maintenance would best be done by hiring someone to do the work. Inevitably, some workers are injured. There are sometimes confusing rules about when a homeowner is liable for injuries to workers on the property, either in tort or under the workers’ compensation system. The common questions include whether the person hired by the homeowner was (1) required to be a licensed professional to do the work, and (2) if so, whether the person had the required license.

As stated by our Supreme Court, “It is doubtful the average homeowner realizes tree trimming can require a contractor’s license.” (Fernandez v. Lawson (2003) 31 Cal.4th 31, 37 (Fernandez).)

Plaintiff Mary E. Jones appeals from a judgment after a grant of summary judgment to defendant Danita Sorenson. Sorenson hired a gardener to work on her property and the gardener hired Jones to help her. Jones was injured when she fell from a ladder while trimming a tree at least 15 feet tall. Jones sued Sorenson, claiming such work required a license but the gardener was not licensed and the gardener’s negligence caused the fall. Jones claimed that Sorenson was liable to Jones under a respondeat superior theory, because she was as a matter of law the employer of both the gardener and Jones.

The trial court ruled in effect that the terms “gardener” and “nurseryperson” as used in Business and Professions Code section 7026.11 were synonymous, and therefore Sorenson could avoid tort liability because a person acting as a nurseryperson may trim trees 15 feet tall or higher without a contractor’s license, although a gardener cannot.

We disagree with this reading of the relevant statute, which distinguishes between a “gardener” and a “nurseryperson”; the latter refers to a licensed operator of a nursery, whereas a gardener does not require a license. There is no evidence that the gardener Sorenson hired was also a nurseryperson. This means Sorenson--the movant on summary judgment--has not refuted the claim that she was the gardener’s (and therefore Jones’s) employer, and potentially liable under a respondeat superior theory for the gardener’s alleged negligence."

The practical takeaway is in footnote two:

"As this case illustrates, a homeowner wanting tall trees (15 feet or taller) trimmed may minimize liability by hiring a licensed tree service contractor, that is, a person holding a “C-61/D-49 Tree Service” specialty license issued by the Contractors State License Board. (See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 16, § 832.61; Dept. of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Bd. (2015) Description of Classifications, p. 16 [licensing a person who “prunes trees, removes trees, limbs or stumps . . . .”].)"

Got it.  Will do.