Jones v. SorensonAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff Mary Jones appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Danita Sorenson. Sorenson hired a gardener to work on her property and the gardener hired Jones to help her. Jones was injured when she fell from a ladder while trimming a tree at least 15 feet tall. Jones sued Sorenson, claiming such work required a license but the gardener was not licensed and the gardener’s negligence caused the fall. Jones claimed that Sorenson was liable to Jones under a respondeat superior theory, because she was, as a matter of law, the employer of both the gardener and Jones. The trial court ruled that the terms “gardener” and “nurseryperson” as used in Business and Professions Code section 7026.11 were synonymous, and therefore Sorenson could avoid tort liability because a person acting as a nurseryperson may trim trees 15 feet tall or higher without a contractor’s license. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that “nurseryperson” refers to a licensed operator of a nursery, whereas a gardener does not require a license. This meant Sorenson, the movant on summary judgment, did not refute the claim that she was the gardener’s (and therefore Jones’s) employer, and potentially liable under a respondeat superior theory for the gardener’s alleged negligence.