Safeguarding Your World

Game-Changer: New Ruling in CBRE v. Johnson Transforms Contractor Liability Laws

Transforms Contractor Liability Laws
The case of CBRE v. Jake Johnson (2024) has brought significant attention to the legal interpretation of the Privette doctrine in California. This case centers around a serious injury sustained by Jake Johnson, an electrician working on a tenant improvement project managed by CBRE.

Case Background

CBRE managed an office building in San Diego owned by PRI, which required tenant improvements as part of a new lease agreement. CBRE hired Crew as the general contractor, who, in turn, subcontracted electrical work to PCF, where Johnson was employed. During the project, Johnson suffered severe injuries due to an electrical mishap involving a mislabeled junction box.

Key Legal Issues

The primary legal contention was whether CBRE, as the managing entity, could be held liable for Johnson’s injuries under the Privette doctrine. The Privette doctrine generally protects entities that hire independent contractors from liability for injuries sustained by the contractors’ employees.

Court Rulings

The trial court initially denied CBRE’s motion for summary judgment, citing potential factual disputes about the hiring and control over the work. However, upon appeal, the California Court of Appeal reversed this decision, asserting that the Privette doctrine did apply. The court determined that:

1. No Written Contract Requirement: The Privette doctrine does not necessitate a written contract to shield the hiring entity from liability, provided there is evidence of delegated control over the project.

2. Concealed Hazardous Condition Exception: This exception was deemed inapplicable because the hazardous condition (the electrical wiring) was not concealed and could have been discovered by PCF.

3. Retained Control Exception: This exception was also inapplicable since CBRE’s decision to forgo permits did not influence how PCF managed safety during their work.


This ruling reinforces the robustness of the Privette doctrine in protecting hiring entities like CBRE from liability in situations where independent contractors are responsible for their safety protocols. It also clarifies that written contracts are not a prerequisite for invoking Privette protections, which may influence how future construction contracts and safety protocols are managed in California.

The CBRE v. Jake Johnson case underscores the importance of defined roles and responsibilities in construction projects and the legal protections available to entities hiring independent contractors.