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Court splits on duty owed by independent contractor

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues because he believed the majority’s ruling placed an “impossible burden” on contractors regarding whether a homebuyer was rightfully on the premises the day she was injured.

Peggy Rider entered into a contract to purchase a new home from Larry L. McCamment and his company. McCamment subcontracted some work to Charles Lee’s company. Despite a provision in the contract that Rider was to get permission before visiting the construction site, she claimed to have visited more than 30 times without permission. She was injured when she fell from an unfinished deck built by Lee’s company while Lee and his men were at lunch and away from the home. Rider was at the home without permission when she was injured.

She and her husband sued McCamment and Lee, and their companies, for negligence. The trial court affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Court of Appeals unanimously agreed in granting summary judgment for McCamment because he didn’t control the premises for purposes of establishing a duty of care to Rider. McCamment, as landowner, didn’t exercise actual possession or control of the deck, wasn’t present the day of the accident, and had a contractor do the immediate work, wrote Judge Patricia Riley in the majority opinion in Peggy J. Rider and James R. Rider v. Larry L. McCamment, et al., No. 16A01-1004-CT-180.  

The majority reversed summary judgment in favor of Lee as an independent contractor, holding there are conflicting facts as to how many times Lee had previously seen Rider at the construction site and whether he saw her or knew she frequently visited the site.

“Although Lee exercised control over the premises, the facts designated to us by the parties are not sufficient to conclude whether Rider was rightfully on the premises and whether she was a foreseeable visitor,” wrote the judge.

Judge James Kirsch dissented regarding the reversal of summary judgment in favor of Lee.

“To me, it is reasonable to impose a duty on a contractor when he knows that a party is upon the premises. When Lee was present, he had the ability to warn Rider of potentially dangerous areas or conditions - such as a partially completed railing. He did not have such an ability when he was not present,” he wrote.

To hold that Lee should have foreseen that Rider would visit the house while he was gone and without permission “inflates the concept of duty to infinite proportions,” Judge Kirsch wrote.

“Under the duty imposed by the majority, Lee could have protected himself from liability only by stationing a guard upon the premises to insure that neither Rider, nor anyone else, entered upon the inherently dangerous worksite. I do not think that such a requirement is reasonable or financially feasible.”

He also believed the issue is actually the risk incurred by Rider and someone who enters upon an inherently dangerous construction site without permission or notice incurs the risk of those dangers as a matter of law.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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