On September 17, 2009, decedent Francisco, 27, a laborer, was working on a home renovation project in Malibu. He was usually tasked with cleaning up the job site, but on this date, he was instructed to feed a doorbell wire up the inside of a wall of the house using a metal fishtape. When he attempted to run the wire while lying underneath the house, the fishtape pierced a live wire and Francisco was electrocuted.
The decedent's wife, the decedent's mother, and the decedent's infant daughter sued the owner/developer of the property, Herndon Partners, LLC, and an electrical subcontractor on the renovation project, Amador Electric. The family alleged that the defendants created a dangerous condition, resulting in the wrongful death of the decedent. They also alleged that Herndon Partners was an uninsured employer and that its negligent exercise of its retained control over the safety conditions on the property was a substantial factor in causing the decedent's death.
Plaintiffs' counsel argued that even though the decedent was hired to perform basic clean-up of the job site, the decedent and his coworkers were required to perform dangerous tasks outside the scope of their employment, including welding, roofing and electrical work, without safety training, safety equipment or competent supervision. Counsel's position was that as the property's owner/developer, Herndon Partners acted as the general contractor on the project and employed the decedent, making it responsible for being properly insured, for being properly licensed, and for worker safety. Counsel contended that Herndon Partners was, in fact, an uninsured employer for workers' compensation. Counsel also argued that Amador Electric, as the only competent electrician on the job site, had a duty to warn about unsafe electrical work being performed on the premises. Counsel's contention was that because Amador Electric was aware that dangerous electrical work was being assigned to laborers, it was required, but failed to intervene or to report the matter to the project supervisor.
Herndon Partners claimed that it was not the decedent's employer on the project and that it did not contribute to the accident. It also claimed that it hired a construction company, owned entirely by Herndon Partners' sole owner, to act as general contractor on the project and was therefore shielded from liability. Counsel for the plaintiffs denied this claim and pointed out that there was no documentation to support this assertion.
Amador Electric claimed that it was only hired on a time-and-materials basis, and was not responsible for overseeing all of the electrical work, including the subject doorbell installation. It also claimed that it had not been to the project site for nearly two weeks before the fatality. Amador Electric claimed that had it been in charge of all the electrical work, it would not have allowed unqualified, unsupervised laborers to handle electrical wires.
Francisco sustained an immediate electric shock upon touching a wire under the house. He ultimately died from this injury. He was 27 years old. The decedent is survived by his wife, mother and infant daughter.
The decedent's family sought recovery of $3.5 million in economic damages for the decedent's past and future lost earnings and benefits, as well as household services. They also sought recovery of an unspecified amount of non-economic wrongful death damages.
The jury determined that Herndon Partners was the decedent's employer on the project and that it was liable for the decedent's safety. The jury also determined that Herndon Partners was 100% liable for the fatal accident and that Amador Electric was not at fault. Thus, it rendered a defense verdict for Amador Electric and Herndon Partners was solely responsible for the $13,337,586 in total damages to compensate the decedent's family.
The plaintiffs were compensated with pre-judgment interest from September 14, 2012, at 10% per annum, plus costs. Attorneys for Herndon Partners moved for a new trial or, in the alternative, for remittitur, and Judge Mark Snauffer agreed to reduce the compensation to the plaintiffs, making the new recovery amount $8,818,101 in damages, plus costs 10% interest from September 14, 2012, until payment of the judgment. Herndon Partners filed an appeal. Plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal for the denial of punitive damages and attorney's fees, and the granting of remittitur or a new trial.