Be Careful Who You Hire: Unlicensed Contractors are Employees of the Hirer

by Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP

In Randall Blackwell v. Ray Vasilas, (D067239, Superior Court No. 37-2013-00064563-CU-PO-CTL) the Fourth Appellate District held the Privette Doctrine does not protect a hirer from liability to an independent contractor’s employee, where the alleged tortfeasor was unlicensed to perform construction work which required a license with the Contractor’s State License Board. In other words, an unlicensed contractor is an employee of the hirer, and the hirer is liable for the conduct of the unlicensed contractor, whether or not the hirer knew or should have known the contractor was unlicensed.

In Blackwell, Plaintiff was injured when scaffolding erected by another contractor collapsed at a residential construction site owned by Vasilas. Vasilas hired Plaintiff Blackwell to replace gutters and hired another contractor, Gomez, to repair stucco. Prior to Blackwell performing work on the gutters, Gomez erected and used scaffolding at the property to perform the stucco work. Subsequently, Blackwell leaned his extension ladder on the top rail of the scaffolding to reach the roof and fell to the ground when the scaffolding collapsed. Blackwell filed suit against Vasilas and Gomez for negligence. Gomez did not appear or participate in the lawsuit.

Vasilas filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds he had no duty to Blackwell and argued pursuant to the Privette Doctrine, he is not liable to Blackwell for the conduct of his independent contractor, Gomez. The trial court agreed, and found Gomez was not an employee of Vasilas. The Court of Appeal disagreed and reversed the grant of summary judgment on the grounds Vasilas did not affirmatively prove Gomez was an independent contractor and not an employee.

To determine Gomez’s employment status, the Court relied exclusively on the express statutory requirements found in Labor Code §2750.5 which provides,“[t]here is a rebuttable presumption…that a worker performing services for which a license is required…is an employee rather than an independent contractor.” Thereafter, §2750.5 (a) – (c) lists certain considerations to rebut the employee status and determine an individual is an independent contractor including: right to control, discretion regarding manner of performance or means to accomplish the work, substantial investment in the business, holding out business for oneself, bargaining for a contract, control over the time and place of work, supply of tools and instrumentalities, performing work that requires a particular skill, holding a license and the intent of the parties. However §2750 further provides, “…any person performing any function or activity for which a license is required pursuant to [the Contractor’s State License Law] shall hold a valid contractors’ license as a condition of having independent contractor status.” The Court emphasized, “[m]ore than 30 years ago, we ruled that this language “absolutely denies independent contractor status to a person required to have such a license who is not licensed.”

The Blackwell ruling is not novel, but acts as a firm reminder to homeowners, businesses and the entire construction industry of the importance to comply with the CSLB’s licensing requirements. Although unlicensed contractors are not entitled to receive compensation for their unlicensed services, hiring an unlicensed contractor could unknowingly and inadvertently expose an owner or general contractor to significant liability for worksite injuries to employees of other independent contractors on the project.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP

Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.