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Workplace Injury

In Arborist v. Bay Area Crane Service (Sonoma Co. Sup. Ct.) Rich Schoenberger and Matt Davis obtained a $6 million settlement on behalf of a 33-year-old employee rendered a paraplegic during a tree removal project at a Sonoma County home. The defendant crane company was hired by the plaintiff’s employer to hoist and move sections of cut trees over a residence and place them into a “safety zone” where the plaintiff was to cut the sections into smaller pieces. During the work a large limb broke free from the crane’s rigging and fell on the plaintiff. His employer was in charge of the jobsite and he was cited by Cal-OSHA for safety violations. Suit was brought against the crane operator and his employer. During depositions evidence was developed showing numerous safety violations by the crane operator. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the crane operator was a “special employee” of the plaintiff’s employer and therefore the suit was barred by the exclusive remedy rule and the holding in Privette v. Superior Court and its progeny. In support of their motion the defendants pointed to the contract that defined the crane operator as a “special employee” of the arborist company. Rich and Matt developed evidence showing that the crane company and operator retained control over how the crane was operated during the job and prevailed at the summary judgment hearing citing case law holding that the facts of how a job was actually run are more important that what is written in the contract. The court denied the defense motion and the case settled for the crane company’s policy limits shortly thereafter.