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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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