SW Legal studies in Business

Land Sale Contract Relieves Owner of Premises Liability
Description

Indiana high court held that the seller of residential property, who retained title for two years until the buyer-occupant of the property made final payment, could not be held liable for not trimming trees on the property that were claimed to be at fault for obscuring vision in a fatal road accident. The buyer-occupant was in control of the property.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Premises Liability; Wrongful Death; Ownership and Control; Trees

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Travis Scheible, age 10, was riding his bicycle and crossed the street from behind a mature tree that overhung the sidewalk and obscured his view of oncoming traffic. When he rode into the street, he was struck and killed by an oncoming car. The tree was on residential property owned by Jackson who has sold the property to Smith six months before the accident. The sale was a two-year installment contract, with Smith residing on the property. Smith made a down payment and made monthly payments, with the balance due at the end of two years. The boy’s mother sued Jackson and Smith for failing to trim the tree to allow a better view of traffic. She noted that a city ordinance requires landowners to trim trees. The court granted summary judgment with respect to Jackson. The mother appealed with respect to Jackson.

Decision

Affirmed. Once Jackson entered into the two-year land sale contract with Smith, all incidents relating to ownership and control accrued to Smith, so Jackson had no duty regarding city ordinances to trim the tree and had no duty in general with respect to problems related to the use and control of the property. While Jackson was still the owner, he no longer occupied or controlled the property. He had no duty to trim trees. Smith had exclusive possession and control.

Citation

Jackson v. Scheible, ---NE2d--- (2009 WL 613456, Sup. Ct., Ind., 2009)

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