California Prison Guard Allowed to Pursue Premises Liability Case Against Employer

Any time you’re injured on someone else’s premises due to the negligence or misconduct of the property owner, there’s a lot that goes into obtaining a court judgment providing you with a damages award for the harm you’ve suffered. This is especially true if your injury occurred on your employer’s property because, in some of these cases, the law only allows you to recover workers’ compensation benefits. In one recent case involving a prison guard, the California Court of Appeal ruled that he should be allowed to pursue his premises liability lawsuit, since he both lived and worked on prison property, raising the possibility that he may not have been acting in the “scope of his employment” when he suffered his injury.

Monnie Wright worked at the San Quentin prison, where the state maintained residential housing for some of the guards, including Wright. Since he lived on the property, Wright walked to work every day. On one December morning, the guard was making his usual trek to work when a step collapsed beneath him, causing him to fall and suffer injuries.

Wright launched a premises liability lawsuit against the state, alleging that the stair’s defective construction and maintenance caused his fall and resulting injuries. The state claimed that, since the injury occurred on its property, that the guard’s injury happened “in the course of his employment” with the state. This would mean that he was entitled under the law to receive workers’ compensation benefits, but that he would be barred from pursuing his premises liability lawsuit.

The trial court agreed with the state’s argument, but the appeals court did not. While the guard’s injury did occur on his employer’s premises, and, in many cases, the “premises line rule” would dictate his injuries must be dealt with through the workers’ compensation system rather than civil litigation, Wright’s case was atypical because he both worked and resided on property owned by his employer.

One thing that helped the guard’s case was the fact that living on-site at the prison was purely voluntary. Neither his employment contract nor the demands of his job duties necessitated that he live on the prison premises. If Wright’s job had required him to live on-site, the law likely would have allowed him to pursue workers’ compensation and not his lawsuit. However, given the particular facts of the guard’s living and working situations, the appeals court concluded that the trial court was wrong to award the state summary judgment based upon the premises line rule. Instead, the trial court should have used the “bunkhouse rule” to determine whether or not the guard was in the course of his employment when he suffered his injuries. The bunkhouse rule sets out the standards under which an employee who lives on his or her employer’s property may be on-site but not acting in the scope of his or her employment.

Another fact that bolstered the guard’s case was the lease agreement the guard signed with the state. The lease required the guard to obtain liability insurance, and it also contained several indemnity provisions protecting the state from legal exposure. The court questioned why “would the State have inserted these provisions into Wright’s lease if it believed him covered by workers’ compensation at all times?”

Reaching a successful outcome in your personal injury lawsuit involves navigating several minefields that can destroy your case. For aggressive and knowledgeable representation in dealing with these issues, consult the Oakland premises liability attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury attorneys can help you determine how to get the recovery you deserve.

Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Family Able to Sue Restaurant Owner for Dangerous Parking Lot, Even When Injury Occurred Offsite, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 31, 2014

Tenant’s Failure to Use Existing Lighting Unravels Slip-and-Fall Injury Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Nov. 29, 2013

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