gavel.jpgThe California Supreme Court ruled today that a maintenance worker who was injured in a conveyor belt at San Francisco International Airport cannot sue the airline that hired the contractor for which he worked.

The court said that in hiring a maintenance contractor, US Airways Inc. delegated worker safety responsibility to the contractor.

The airline therefore could not be sued, the court said in ruling written by Justice Joyce Kennard.

“By hiring an independent contractor, the hirer implicitly delegates any tort law duty it owes to the contractor’s employees to ensure safety of the specific workplace that is the subject of the contract,” Kennard wrote.

The panel issued its decision in San Francisco in the case of Anthony Verdon, who was injured when his arm was caught in a US Airways baggage conveyor belt at the airport on Nov. 3, 2005.

His lawyers said in court papers that the damage to his hand and arm was “a career-ending injury.”

Verdon worked for Lloyd W. Aubry Co., which the airline hired to maintain and repair the conveyor belt.

The company’s workers’ compensation insurer, Seabright Insurance Co., paid Verdon benefits for the injury. But the insurer then sought to sue US Airways in San Francisco Superior Court to recover what it paid in benefits.

Verdon later joined the lawsuit, claiming that the airline was negligent and liable for injuries that occurred on its premises. He and Seabright alleged his injury was caused by a lack of conveyor belt safety guards required by state regulations.

They claimed that compliance with California Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations was a responsibility that the airline could not delegate.

But the state high court said that under the reasoning of a long line of California court cases, worker safety was included in the duties delegated to a contractor.

Kennard wrote that the cost of the contractor’s workers’ compensation insurance is presumably included in the contract, and “therefore the hirer indirectly pays for that insurance.”

Because the case never went to trial, the exact cause of Verdon’s injury was not determined.

Lawyers for Verdon, the insurer and the airline were not immediately available for comment today.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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