A recent case heard in the Rhode Island Supreme Court explains the limited liability of an independent contractor.
Homeowner 1 hired Contractor to build an addition on her home. During the construction, Homeowner 1 was notified that the structure violated zoning laws and it would need to be removed. The construction ceased and Homeowner 1 sold the property to Homeowner 2. Homeowner 2 agreed to remove the addition as required by the zoning laws. Homeowner 2 and his brother worked on demolishing the addition. The brother fell at the work site and sustained injuries. The brother then filed suit against Homeowner 1 and Contractor, alleging negligence, premises liability, negligent hiring, strict liability, res ipsa loquitor, and negligent design, construction, and inspection. Homeowner 1 argued that she is not liabile for the negligent acts of an independent contractor and Contractor argued that he is not liable to third parties for negligence after his work is "accepted." The Superior Court of Rhode Island agreed. It held that Homeowner 1 could not be found negligent in hiring Contractor because she did not owe a legal duty of care to the brother. The Court further held that Contractor did not owe a duty to the brother because Contractor could not have known or anticipated that the roof would be dismantled in the middle of its construction. The brother conceded to all other counts, but appealed the ruling on these two issues. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed, ruling in favor of Homeowner 1 and Contractor on all counts. This ruling would most likely be similar in other states as liability is based on whether the allegedly negligent party owed some duty to the injured party. When it is not reasonably foreseeable for one party to owe a duty to another party, a court will rule that there is no liabilty based on a claim of negligence.
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