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Are Property Owners Liable For Contractors’ Mistakes?

NON-DELEGABLE DUTIES CAN CREATE LEGAL LIABILITY FOR LAND OWNERS WHEN A CONTRACTOR ACTS NEGLIGENTLY

Many property owners hire contractors and assume, if anyone is injured during construction, that the contractor will bear the legal liability for the injury. However, this is not always true.

California law imposes certain duties on the owner or possessor of land that are considered “non-delegable” — meaning they do not transfer, and cannot be transferred, to a contractor or other third party. Instead, the property owner is still (sometimes, also) liable if the contractor fails to carry out the relevant duty.

While the contractor also has duties to carry out work in a proper manner, and may be separately liable if (s)he performs the work in a negligent manner, the contractor’s duties are separate from the duty owed by the property owner.

WHAT ARE NON-DELEGABLE DUTIES?

As mentioned above, non-delegable duties are those which the law (for public policy reasons) imposes upon people who own, possess, or control real property and also states that the property owner (or possessor) cannot delegate to others. Among the non-delegable duties applicable to California property owners are:

1. The duty to maintain property in reasonably safe condition.

2. The duty to provide safe equipment. If the property owner (remember: this also applies to people who possess or control real property, including tenants) provides equipment for the contractor and/or workers to use, there is a legal duty to provide equipment that is safe for the intended use and other reasonably foreseeable uses.

3. The duty to warn of concealed hazards. Property owners should note that they generally have a legal duty to warn the contractor of these hazards, as well as members of the public.

4. Where the work is inherently dangerous, the property owner may retain liability. California recognizes the “peculiar risk” doctrine, which holds property owners liable for injuries incurred in the performance of work that carries an inherent risk of injury due to the nature of the work itself or the dangerous conditions under which the work must be performed.

This is not a complete or exhaustive list of a property owner’s non-delegable duties. Liability may persist under other conditions also; for example, where a property owner hires a contractor but retains control of the work (as an owner-contractor or otherwise), and the manner in which the property owner manages (or fails to manage) the work is a “substantial factor” in causing injury, the property owner may be legally liable for damages.

Before you hire a contractor, or engage in work on property you own or control, consult an attorney to ensure you understand, and take proper steps to fulfill, your legal duties. If you have been injured due to construction or conditions on someone else’s property, consult an attorney promptly for an individual evaluation of your legal rights and potential claims.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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