Property Ownership Rights

It is very important to understand the rights of property owners.  In Connecticut, the general rule is that a property owner is not liable to third parties for the negligence of a general contractor. For example, if you hire a painting service to paint your house and the painter on the job carelessly gets paint on your neighbors’ car, you as the homeowner are not liable for the damage. However, there is an exception to this rule for work that is known by the homeowner to create an unreasonable risk of harm unless special precautions are taken. If you hire an independent contractor to do work on your home that is especially dangerous and such work injures your neighbor or his property, you may be personally liable for that damage.

In the recent decision of Autowerkers Management II, LLC v. Maloyid Perkins, 54 Conn. L. Rptr. 666, the plaintiffs sustained damage to their property when a structure on their adjacent neighbor’s property was being demolished after a fire. The damage to the plaintiffs’ property included destruction of fences, damage to the lawn, and contamination to the property from asbestos and other hazardous materials which were present in the structure that was being demolished. At issue in this case was whether the property owners themselves could be held personally liable for the plaintiffs’ damages, rather than the independent contractor who performed the work.

The court discussed the principle established in Taylor v. Conti, 149 Conn. 174 in which the Connecticut Supreme Court established that a party who contracts for work to be done which he knows to be particularly dangerous will be personally liable if such work results in an injury, unless necessary precautions are taken. In other words, the party is not protected by the independent contractor rule. The plaintiffs in the Autowerkers case argue that this principle should apply to their situation since the removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials is a particularly dangerous activity. The court found that genuine issues of material facts were present and therefore declined to hold that the Taylor principle applies to this situation.

While it is still unclear whether the removal of asbestos will qualify as an exception to the independent contractor rule, this case reminds us that any time we are having work done to our home, we need to consider what effects the work might have on our neighbors.

Things to Consider When Having Work Done on your Home:

  • Find out what precautions can be taken for the work being performed at your home
  • Review your contract to see what precautions your contractor will take
  • Confirm that these precautions be included as terms of the contract
  • Inform your neighbors of the work being performed to make them aware