Can You Hold a Nearby Landowner Responsible for Danger on a Public Road in Mississippi?

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Generally, you cannot hold a private landowner responsible for a hazardous condition on a public Mississippi road unless you have evidence that it or its agent was negligent. Mere speculation based on the landowner’s proximity to the hazard is insufficient. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove that a particular person or entity created a hazardous condition and should be responsible for harms caused to third parties by it.

For example, in Patterson, Jr. v. T.L. Wallace Construction, Inc., the plaintiff was seriously injured in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident due to dangers on the road. He sued a construction company and a development company that owned the land for damages. They filed motions for summary judgment. The court granted these motions. The Court of Appeals reversed and sent the cases back for trial. The defendants petitioned for review.

The case arose when the plaintiff and his friend were riding their motorcycles on Cross Creek Parkway, a public road next to a mall. The friend rode in front of the plaintiff by about 20 feet. While riding, the plaintiff hit debris on the road and wiped out. He suffered severe injuries as he navigated through the debris.

The injured motorcyclist sued the construction company and landowner. The landowner had hired the construction company to complete certain construction projects. The construction company repaired a dirt haul road, using a bulldozer over wet dirt. The motorcyclist claimed that the construction company and landowner had negligently caused debris to accumulate on the road, didn’t clean the debris, and didn’t warn motorists that there was any danger.

However, at deposition, the plaintiff didn’t know whether the company was performing construction nearby, whether it had created the debris, or how long the debris had been there. The friend likewise didn’t know this information, but he had seen construction equipment nearby on a day before the accident.

The construction company employees testified that its work was 200 feet or more from the road and there was grass between the work area and the road. The construction company had worked on the property in November 2006 before the accident, but it didn’t work on the land again until two days after the accident.

The construction company and landowner had moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the construction company was not working in the area on the day of the accident, that the construction company did not have actual or constructive notice of the debris, and there was no agency relationship between it and the landowner. The landowner argued the construction company was an independent contractor and didn’t cause debris to be in the road.

The court found that the construction company was an independent contractor, and the landowner was not liable for its negligence. It also determined that the landowner didn’t have a duty to maintain the road, which was public, and that it had not created the hazardous condition.

With regard to the construction company, the court found the plaintiff had failed to present enough evidence about how the company had put the debris on the road or how long it had been there. It determined that the company didn’t owe the plaintiff a duty simply because it worked in the area.

The court also noted that the road was a public road and that it was likely that other contractors, the public, or employees of the city had created the debris that caused the accident. The appellate court reversed and sent it back for trial. The defendants filed a petition for certiorari.

The Mississippi Supreme Court explained that the construction company was an independent contractor, and therefore its acts and omissions couldn’t be imputed to the construction company. What is an independent contractor? Under Mississippi case law, an independent contractor is someone who contracts with another to do something, but isn’t controlled by the other or subject to control regarding the physical performance of the undertaking. Usually a principal, like the landowner in this case, cannot be held vicariously liable for an independent contractor’s torts.

In this case, there was no evidence the landowner controlled the independent contractor or his performance. The Supreme Court also found there was no evidence of affirmative negligence by the landowner or the construction company. There was no evidence that the company owed the motorcyclist a duty of care, and the plaintiff’s case was too speculative. Accordingly, the court reinstated and affirmed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants.

Although this particular plaintiff was not able to prove his case, the experienced Mississippi personal injury attorneys of Coxwell & Associates may be able to build a strong case on your behalf if you are hurt on the road. Contact us for a consultation.

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Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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