October 10, 2007

Texas Real Estate Law Update: Texas Supreme Court Holds Property Owner Not Liable for Negligence of Independent Contractor

Texas real estate law generally provides that a property owner in Texas is not required to ensure that an independent contractor perform its work in a safe and non-negligent manner. In the recent case of Central Ready Mix Concrete Company, Inc. v. Luciano Islas, the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed that principle, and refused to accept some apparently novel arguments in support of changing that law. The Plaintiff was clearly trying to find the "deep pocket" here, and was making some pretty tenuous arguments to try to get there. The Court's decision in this case makes sense.

Central, the property owner, was a ready-mix concrete company who hired an individual, Taylor, to come to the property owner's business premises to clean out concrete trucks. All parties agreed that Taylor was an independent contractor, and was not an employee of the property owner. Islas, the Plaintiff, was injured when another of Taylor's employee's turned on a concrete truck's drum while Islas was inside, severely injuring him. The Texas Supreme Court refused to extend premises liability law to cover this situation.

concrete%20mixer.jpg It was important to the Court's decision that the property owner had neither contractual nor actual control over the independent contractor's employees. In ruling in favor of the property owner, the Court disagreed with the following arguments:

1. Islas claimed that the concrete truck contained a "concealed hazard", and that the property owner had a duty to warn him of this hazard. The Court said that while a property owner does have a duty to warn an independent contractor of concealed and hazardous conditions on its real property, a property owner does not have a duty to warn an independent contractor about the hazards of the contractor's own work.

2. Islas argued that the property owner should have trained Taylor and/or Taylor's employees. The Court said that the property owner had no duty to train an independent contractor.

3. Islas claimed that the cleaning of the trucks was "inherently dangerous", and that the property owner had a nondelegable duty to warn him of the danger. The Court said that almost any machine, whether a small appliance or a piece of heavy equipment, can cause injury if it is activated when someone's fingers or limbs are inside it, and declined to find that cleaning a concrete truck was inherently dangerous.

Ironically, an inspector with the Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program, a division of the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission, had recommended that the property owner use an independent contractor to clean its trucks in the first place.


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