Heinrich Law’s client Abe Degala was working as a demolition subcontractor on a construction project in a crime-ridden part of Hunters Point, San Francisco when he was violently attacked.
The attack was so severe that he became disabled: he was in constant pain, he was unable to work and so anxious that he was not able to leave his home.
We learned that the attack was entirely foreseeable. Abe and many other workers complained to the owner and general contractor about the dangerous conditions. The workers asked for security to be provided. The owners refused, insisting that they had a sophisticated camera system in place.
As it turns out, the cameras were in place, but they were not monitored. We have a video record of the violent attack, perpetrated by masked thugs, but there was no one on site to prevent the incident or help Abe.
Heinrich Law filed a complaint in 2018 against the owner and GC for negligence and premises liability. We conducted numerous depositions and were confident that we had a solid case.
In 2020 the defense told me they wanted to settle, however, in advance of talking settlement, they were going to file Motions for Summary Judgements based on the Privette doctrine.
The Privette doctrine stands for the premise that entities who hire subcontractors to work on construction site projects cannot be held responsible if a worker for one of the subcontractors is injured on the job site unless an exception applies.
Bottom line: If the presiding judge granted the Motions for Summary Judgement, Abe’s case would be dismissed and thrown out. Translation: Our adversaries were willing to settle – but at a steep discount.
The facts of this case were so egregious that we refused their “steep discount” price. Heinrich Law built Abe’s case on “the Hooker exception.” Hooker stands for the premise that if the hirer retains control over some portion of the work being performed by the subcontractor and exercises the control in a way that contributes to the injured worker’s incident then the hirer can be held responsible.
I was certain that a SF Superior Court Judge would understand our case, and would not grant these MSJs.
In March 2021, the MSJs were heard in SF Superior Court. To my shock and horror, the Judge granted both motions, throwing Abe’s case out of court.
I knew this decision was unfair. And I knew we had to fight it.
I immediately contacted one of the best appellate lawyers in California, Alan Charles aka Chuck Dell’Ario.
I told him, “I have a horribly injured client who has lost his livelihood, will never work again, is in chronic pain, and has undergone multiple surgeries – all because the owner and general contractor refused to provide even a modicum of site security. Tell me, Chuck, we can get this crazy decision reversed on appeal?”
Chuck reviewed the case. He was in. He said: “Let’s get this terrible decision reversed.” We filed an appeal in July 2021. Oral argument took place in November 2022.
This past Friday, January 27th “the email” arrived. It was from the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, announcing its decision.
I frantically read, “Abraham Degala was attacked and seriously injured by unknown assailants while he was working at a construction site at the Hunters Point housing complex in San Francisco. Because we conclude there are triable issues of fact as to whether the site owner and general contractor are liable to Degala under a retained control theory, we shall reverse.”
While we may still be a long way from getting this client to the finish line, for today, I can say we have been victorious in this critical battle. The appeal was decided in favor of our deserving client. JUSTICE HAS PREVAILED.