Property owner liable for injuries suffered by tree trimmer

California employers are generally required to carry insurance that will pay any workers' compensation claims made by their employees, but what happens when a day worker is injured on the property of a person who does not carry such insurance? The California Court of Appeals answered that question in the case of a tree trimmer who was working for a contractor that did not have such insurance.

The facts of the case are simple. The claimant was worker for a woman who provided tree trimming services. When working on the property of a homeowner, the claimant fell from a ladder and suffered significant injuries. The tree trimming firm did not have a contractor's license and it did not carry workers' compensation insurance. Both the homeowner and the tree trimming firm contended that the claimant was an independent contractor and not able to claim workers' compensation benefits.

The court relied on the California Labor Code in requiring the homeowner to compensate the injured worker. The applicable section of the Labor Code creates a rebuttable presumption that a worker who performs work for which a license is required is an employee, not an independent contractor. Therefore, the court held that the homeowner was the claimant's employer and liable for her injuries. The statute provides that a person performing work for which a license is required must carry that license in order to claim independent contractor status.

The homeowner was undoubtedly surprised by the outcome. The case provides two warnings. Homeowners must take care to ensure that persons hired to perform property maintenance work possess either a contractor's license or any other license that may be required. The injured employee should not be put off by the employer's failure to carry the required license because, as this case demonstrates, the property owner may ultimately bear the legal burden of paying workers' compensation benefits.

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