ILNews

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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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