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Alvarez v. Seaside Transportation Services LLC

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

July 20, 2017

BERNIE ALVAREZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
SEASIDE TRANSPORTATION SERVICES LLC et al., Defendants and Respondents.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC538128. Holly Fujie, Judge. Affirmed.

          Law Offices of Richard Devirian and Richard C. Devirian; Esner, Chang & Boyer and Stuart B. Esner for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Cox, Wootton, Lerner, Griffin & Hansen, Richard C. Wootton, Mitchell S. Griffin and Marc A. Centor for Defendants and Respondents.

          SORTINO, J. [*]

         Plaintiff and appellant Bernie Alvarez was injured at work when he drove a maintenance van into a shipping container. Plaintiff's employer, Pacific Crane Maintenance Company (PCMC), had been hired by Evergreen Container Terminal (Evergreen) to perform maintenance work at a marine container terminal. Plaintiff sued Evergreen and two of its contractors alleging general negligence.

         The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants based on the Privette doctrine. Under Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 689 (Privette), an independent contractor's employee generally may not recover tort damages for work-related injuries from the contractor's hirer. On appeal, plaintiff argues that (1) defendants did not meet their burden as the moving parties on summary judgment, and (2) he raised 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. We disagree and affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Evergreen leases a marine container terminal in the Port of Los Angeles (Evergreen Terminal). Evergreen contracted with Marine Terminals Corporation dba Ports America (Ports America), Seaside Transportation Services, LLC (Seaside), and PCMC to provide services at the terminal.

         PCMC's contract with Evergreen provides that “PCMC shall exercise reasonable care and use its best efforts to prevent accidents, injury, or damages to it[]s employees.... PCMC shall have an active[, ] ongoing safety program and shall comply with all applicable safety rules, applicable laws, ordinances, and regulations.” The contract does not address any obligation on Evergreen's part to ensure safe conditions at the worksite.

         Plaintiff worked for PCMC for 13 years as a marine mechanic. He was required to watch a training video on general safety once a year. The video warned workers that 45-foot shipping containers may be located next to 40-foot containers at the terminal. Plaintiff was also verbally informed of this possibility.

         On March 11, 2012, at about 6:15 p.m., plaintiff was inspecting chassis at the Evergreen Terminal while driving a maintenance van past a row of 40-foot shipping containers. It was light out. As he was driving, he was glancing to his right to check dates written on chassis. He was driving nine to ten miles per hour when he collided with a 45-foot container. The 45-foot container was protruding into the driving lane by over seven feet.

         At the time of the accident, plaintiff did not know he had been injured and continued to work for three weeks. He later became aware of injuries to his right shoulder, lower back, and knees. On March 3, 2014, he filed a complaint for general negligence against Evergreen, Seaside, and Ports America.

         Defendants moved for summary judgment arguing they were not liable for plaintiff's workplace injuries under the Privette doctrine. In opposition, plaintiff did not address the Privette doctrine but argued that the 45-foot container's partial obstruction of the driving lane violated the Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code (Marine Safety Code).[1]

         The trial court granted summary judgment, holding that “Defendants have satisfied their burden to show that there is no triable issue of material fact and Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to the Privette doctrine.... Privette and its progeny establish that the hirer of an independent contractor presumptively delegates to that contractor its duty to provide a safe workplace for the contractor's employees.... Plaintiff has provided no evidence showing that Defendants retained control ...


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