Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc., Case No. S252796

April 15, 2021

The Supreme Court of California placed Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc., Case No. S252796 on the calendar for a May 5, 2021 oral argument in San Francisco, California. 

The Supreme Court is presented with the following issue:

Can a company that hires an independent contractor be liable in tort for injuries sustained by the contractor’s employee based solely on the company’s negligent failure to undertake safety measures or is more affirmative action required to implicate Hooker v. Department of Transportation (2002) 27 Cal.4th 198?

As discussed in Ericksen Arbuthnot’s August 3, 2020 article “Ten Significant Civil Cases for The California Supreme Court’s September 2020 Term,”[i] this case involves interpretation of the retained control exception to the Privette[ii] bar on a contractor's employee from suing a hirer on either a direct or vicarious liability theory. 

Pursuant to Privette and its progeny, the hirer of an independent contractor is not liable to an employee of the contractor merely because the hirer retained control over safety conditions at a worksite, but is liable to such an employee insofar as its exercise of retained control affirmatively contributed to the employee's injuries.[iii]  In such cases, the liability of the hirer is not vicarious or derivative in the sense that it derives from the act or omission of the hired contractor, but is direct.[iv] 

Affirmative contribution, however, could also be by omission.[v]

In Sandoval, an independent contractor’s employee was injured by an arc flash from a live circuit breaker.  The jury found that the property owner retained control over the safety conditions at the jobsite; that it negligently exercised such control; and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury. 

California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s finding of retained control by the property owner and held[vi] that the property owner’s proposed jury instruction regarding affirmative contribution was somewhat misleading by suggesting the property owner must have engaged in “active conduct” for liability.   

Webcasts of the Court’s live (available approximately 30 minutes before start) and archived oral arguments can be found here,[vii] the parties’ briefs can be found here,[viii] and the Court’s general oral argument calendar is located here.[ix] 

Andrew J. Chan is a partner in Ericksen Arbuthnot’s Oakland/East Bay office, co-chair of the Firm’s Appellate Practice Group, and a California real estate broker.  Mr. Chan can be reached at (510) 832-7770 extension 108 or   

Gregory A. Mase is a Senior Counsel in Ericksen Arbuthnot’s Oakland/East Bay office and co-chair of the Firm’s Appellate Practice Group.  Mr. Mase can be reached at (510) 832-7770 extension 120 or


[ii] Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 689. 

[iii] Hooker v. Department of Transportation (2002) 27 Cal. 4th 198, 202. 

[iv] Regalado v. Callaghan (2016) 3 Cal. App. 5th 582, 590. 

[v] Hooker, 27 Cal. 4th at 212, n. 3 (failure to undertake a promised safety measure); Regalado, 3 Cal. App. 5th at 590 (liability where principal employer directs that the contracted work be done by use of a certain mode or otherwise interferes with the means and methods by which the work is to be accomplished). 

[vi] Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc. (2018) 28 Cal. App. 5th 381.