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Gary Gravelin v. Paul Satterfield et al

November 15, 2011


Trial Court: Mendocino County Superior Court Trial Judge: Honorable John A. Behnke (Mendocino County Super. Ct. No. SCUKCVPM0851334)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sepulveda, J.


Plaintiff Gary Gravelin, a hired worker, was injured while installing a satellite dish on the roof of a residence. He received workers' compensation and brought this separate action against the homeowners for premises liability. The trial court granted a defense summary judgment. We affirm the judgment.

i. facts

Defendants are Raymond and Charlotte Coolidge and their grandson, Paul Satterfield. Defendants own a home in Mendocino County. The Coolidges contracted with Dish Network to replace their existing satellite dish. Dish Network outsourced the job to Linkus Enterprises, Inc., which sent plaintiff Gary Gravelin to perform the installation job. Plaintiff Gravelin was an employee of Linkus Enterprises, Inc., or an independent contractor retained by that company.

Plaintiff arrived at defendants' home on April 26, 2006. One of the homeowners, Charlotte Coolidge, showed him where the existing satellite dish was installed on the roof. Plaintiff could not directly access the roof where the satellite dish was located because his ladder was too short. Plaintiff owned a 24-foot extension ladder but did not bring it to the worksite. Plaintiff supplied his own truck for work, and his recently purchased pick-up truck did not have a ladder rack to transport the long extension ladder. The only ladder plaintiff brought to the worksite was an eight-foot, A-frame ladder.

The homeowners did not tell plaintiff how to access the roof. Plaintiff did a site survey and decided to access the roof using a small roof extension located between the house and carport that was at a lower height than the rest of the roof. Plaintiff told homeowner Charlotte Coolidge where he intended to access the roof, and she expressed no reservations.

The roof extension, or "awning" as plaintiff called it in his deposition, was about four feet square and pitched forward with the front lower than the rear. It was constructed of wood with a rafter at each end. Plaintiff Gravelin testified that the roof extension looked like it was constructed of roofing plywood. It was attached with nails to the house and carport, had supporting wood members that looked like "two by fours," and was covered on the top with asphalt shingles. The roof extension was added to the house "sometime after 1999 or 2000," years after the original construction in the 1970s. Homeowner Raymond Coolidge testified in his deposition that the roof extension was built to provide rain cover as one walked between the house and carport. It was constructed by a local builder, Doug Moyer, who, as a friend of the homeowners, did not charge for his labor. In defendants' answers to interrogatories, defendants stated that the roof extension was "very small" and was never meant to have people climb or walk on it.

Raymond Coolidge is a retired pastor who is 94 years old. As a younger man, Coolidge built several buildings: churches, schools, houses, and a barn. Coolidge never had a building contractor's license. He did not build or help in the building of the roof extension. Raymond Coolidge did not obtain a building permit to construct the roof extension and does not think he asked Moyer to obtain one. No permit was obtained. Coolidge testified that he was satisfied with the roof extension that Moyer built, believed it was constructed safely, and never had any complaints about it. Raymond Coolidge did not talk with plaintiff Gravelin when Gravelin arrived to install the satellite dish. At the time, Coolidge was bedridden following surgery.

Plaintiff Gravelin testified at his deposition that he looked at the roof extension in selecting it as his access point to the main roof and determined that the extension "appeared to be in good shape." Plaintiff retrieved his eight-foot ladder from the truck and set it up near the roof extension. The height of the lowest edge of the roof extension from the ground is about eight feet. Plaintiff climbed the ladder to a high rung, either the top rung or the one beneath it. Plaintiff stepped up about 24 inches and placed his foot on the roof extension. Plaintiff is six feet seven inches tall and at the time of the accident weighed about 225 pounds. He was carrying tools and equipment weighing about 46 pounds.

As plaintiff stepped off the ladder onto the roof extension, the roof extension collapsed. The roof extension pulled away from the main structure, and its braces struck the ladder. The ladder, roof extension, and plaintiff Gravelin crashed to the ground. Plaintiff felt a shooting pain in his back. Plaintiff was airlifted to a hospital in Santa Rosa, where he remained for four days. Plaintiff suffered a vertebral compression fracture. He takes daily medication to manage the pain. Plaintiff resumed full-time employment around August 2008. He received a workers' compensation settlement from Linkus Enterprises, Inc. in December 2008.

Ii. discussion

A. Summary judgment standard

"On appeal after a motion for summary judgment has been granted, we review the record de novo, considering all the evidence set forth in the moving and opposition papers except that to which objections have been made and sustained. [Citation.] Under California's traditional rules, we determine with respect to each cause of action whether the defendant seeking summary judgment has conclusively negated a necessary element of the plaintiff's case, or has demonstrated that under no hypothesis is there a material issue of fact that requires the ...

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