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Caution to GCs! An Exception to Privette Can Leave You Open to Liability

In a recent important decision, Brown v. Beach House Design & Development  the Court of Appeal addressed an issue that frequently arises under the Privette doctrine—the extent to which a general contractor can be held liable for injuries to a subcontractor’s employee.

The injuries in Brown arose when a window casing subcontractor’s employee fell from a scaffold erected by a plastering subcontractor at a construction site. According to evidence offered by the plaintiff in opposition to a motion for summary judgment filed by the general contractor, the scaffold was not properly secured to the building where the work was being performed. As a result the scaffold was defective and failed, causing the injuries.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that under the Privette doctrine, a general contractor ordinarily delegates responsibility to its subcontractors to ensure the safety of the subcontractors’ employees.  However, here the Court applied an exception to the general rule. Under this exception, a general contractor may be held liable for injuries caused by defective equipment that the general contractor provides for use by subcontractors’ employees. The court held that because the general contractor here had paid the plastering subcontractor to erect the scaffold, the general contractor was deemed to have provided it for use by the window casing subcontractor. Accordingly, the general contractor could be liable to the window casing subcontractor’s employee for failing to ensure that the scaffold remained safe for use at all times during the construction project, even when the plastering subcontractor was not using it.

Written by: Nicole Whyte, CEO/Founding Partner

If you are interested in having a BWB&O team member host a webinar for your company, or you want to learn more about this subject, please contact Nicole Whyte at