Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Northern California Department of Transportation in Wrongful Death Case: Tyson & Mendes Wins Motion for Summary Judgment via Privette Doctrine

Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Northern California Department of Transportation in Wrongful Death Case: Tyson & Mendes Wins Motion for Summary Judgment via Privette Doctrine

SAN FRANCISCO (March 2, 2023) – In another win for nationwide insurance and civil litigation defense firm Tyson & Mendes LLP, the First District Court of Appeal issued a published Opinion affirming the Trial Court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Transportation (DOT) on the basis of the Privette doctrine.

The underlying action arose out of the death of an employee of a contractor hired by the DOT to perform road construction who was struck and killed by a drunk driver. According to Molly A. Gilardi, Tyson & Mendes Special Counsel who drafted the appellate brief on behalf of the DOT alongside Northern California Managing Partner James Sell, the decedent’s heirs sued the DOT, alleging its workplace constituted a dangerous condition and that it violated its duty to provide the decedent a safe worksite. The original motion for summary judgment was drafted by Tyson & Mendes attorneys Christopher Campbell and Matthew Tang.

“We moved for summary judgment based on the Privette doctrine, which holds that owners and general contractors are not liable for injuries to the employees of subcontractors. We established the DOT had delegated the duty of safety of the jobsite to the decedent’s employer, which shifted the burden to the plaintiffs to establish a triable issue,” Gilardi said. Subsequently, the court found the plaintiffs could not meet their burden and granted summary judgment in favor of the DOT.

According to Gilardi, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed an appeal, arguing the DOT retained control over the worksite because it had the final decision on questions arising under its contract with the decedent’s employer, including the “manner of work performance.” The plaintiffs also alleged the DOT was negligent by failing to instruct the contractor to implement additional safety precautions.

“The Court of Appeal did not agree with the plaintiffs’ attorney’s interpretation and ultimately held that in order for liability to be found, the hirer must retain control over the means and methods of safety procedures and interfere with the contractor’s ability to comply with its safety obligations specifically,” she said.

On January 31, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s judgment in favor of the DOT.  Its Opinion, entitled Marin v. Department of Transportation, was certified for publication on February 23, 2023. The Opinion delineates the “Privette guardrails” as to when the Hooker exception to the doctrine applies and sets forth clear authority that will help contractors, attorneys, and all potential litigants understand their rights before they ever cross the judicial threshold.

“While we are extremely sympathetic toward the decedent’s family for this tragic loss of their loved one, we were able to prove the DOT had delegated the safety of the jobsite to the decedent’s employer and was not responsible in any way for the death of its employee. Both the Alameda Superior Court and the First District Court of Appeal agreed with our arguments,” Gilardi said.

Serving 18 states nationwide, Tyson & Mendes is one of the fastest growing civil defense firms in the U.S. The firm has established itself as a leader in driving down damages awards and reducing the likelihood of Nuclear Verdicts® – often defined as jury awards in excess of $10 million. Using a unique set of proven defense methods, the firm saved clients more than $1.07 billion in 2022.

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About Tyson & Mendes LLP
Tyson & Mendes LLP is a nationwide, AV-rated litigation and trial firm specializing in insurance defense and protecting its clients from Nuclear Verdicts®. Robert Tyson and Patrick Mendes founded the firm in 2002 to defend corporations, insurance companies, and their clients in civil litigation matters. The firm has experienced tremendous growth in the past two decades, with offices across the U.S. serving clients in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The firm is most widely recognized for winning the landmark Howell v. Hamilton Meats California Supreme Court case, which forever changed the state’s litigation landscape by significantly impacting the damages a plaintiff may recover. Robert Tyson is also the author of the Amazon Bestseller Nuclear Verdicts®: Defending Justice for All, the first playbook for the defense on how to avoid runaway jury verdicts.

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