Can Independent Contractors Be Considered Landowners in Premises Liability Actions?

Posted by Jeremy Rosenthal | Jan 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

Significant case law exists about civil actions against landowners for injuries occurring on their property; these cases are addressed in the Colorado Premises Liability Act. Landowners have a duty to provide reasonable care in protecting others from dangerous conditions upon their land. One defense is challenging the status of being considered a landowner under the statute. The court has demonstrated that interpretation of the Act is often needed on a case-by-case basis.

Pierson v. Black Canyon Aggregates (BCA)

This case rose to the CO Supreme Court after the trial court granted summary judgement for the Respondent, which was affirmed on appeal. A segment of county road was converted to a gravel pit. John Pierson drove his vehicle into a 17-foot embankment--the entrance to the pit created in the road. Pierson suffered injuries and filed suit. The property owner was the Neal family, and was leased to Montrose County. Montrose County hired BCA, an independent contractor, to operate the gravel pit.

Lease Terms: Neal & Montrose County

A 20-year lease agreement was enacted. The County was responsible for maintenance of roads within the premises; and had the option to use fencing or cattle barriers on the roads.

Agreement Terms: Montrose County & BCA

The relationship was established specifying that BCA was not an agent or employer of the county. Control of the site was solely the responsibility of BCA. The County retained rights to inspect and supervise the site, allowing them to enter the property and correct any conditions deemed dangerous. All work was to be executed solely at the risk of BCA, and they assumed responsibility for the conditions of equipment and tools. BCA released the County from liability that could arise. The County did not reassign leasing rights to BCA.

Definition of “Landowner” Interpreted

Landowner is defined as an agent or individual that possesses property, and is legally responsible for conditions, activity, and circumstances which exist. The Supreme Court narrowed their focus to defining “person in possession of property”. A party does not have to possess it “exclusively”, but fit one of three categories:

  • Possessor is an occupier of the land with intentions to control it. (or)
  • Past or current occupier with intentions to control, and no other party has since intended to control it. (or)
  • Party eligible for direct occupation in the absence of another's intent to control it.

In summary, the court interpreted that the landowner is one legally entitled to be on the property and responsible for conditions and activity. In this case, BCA met those standards.

When injuries occur resulting from dangerous conditions on the property of another party, there may be landowner liability. In these situations, the injury victim may be entitled to financial reparations for their hardship. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal is a defender for the rights of Colorado injury victims. Contact the office today to review the details of your case.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenthal

Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is dedicated to helping his clients seek just compensation for their injuries regardless of the lengths he has to go to or the distances he may have to travel in order to get it.

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