Justin Cobb, a 28-year-old resident of Columbia, Missouri, was injured on September 29, 2007, while trimming a 40’ tree in the defendant’s back yard when he was knocked off a ladder by a falling branch. The incident occurred around 11:00 a.m. near West Boulevard and Stewart Road in Columbia. Cobb, an independent contractor tree trimmer with 10 years experience, was hired by Strecker, a retired school teacher, to trim and remove the overgrown tree branches on her property. Cobb’s original $800.00 bid included the price of renting a scissor lift. Cobb explained to Strecker that the lift would make the job go faster and that it would be safer. Strecker requested that the bid is reduced to $650.00 and that Cobb use a ladder instead of renting the $150.00 scissor lift. According to Cobb, he initially agreed to the ladder request but once he began the job decided that he was going to use the scissor lift anyway because the ladder was too dangerous. When he informed Strecker that he was going to rent the lift and take it out of his end, Strecker demanded that the contract is fulfilled according to the terms already agreed upon. According to Cobb, Strecker didn’t want the lift brought into her yard which could cause ruts. Cobb then returned to the tree and was knocked off the ladder by a falling branch and landed on his back.
Cobb was taken to a nearby hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with a spinal cord injury at the T11 level. Although Cobb still had some feeling in his lower extremities, he was unable to walk despite several years of rehabilitative therapy. At this time, Cobb’s doctors are speculative as to whether he will ever walk again.
Plaintiff filed suit in Boone County alleging that the landowner defendant was liable because she controlled the manner in which the independent contracting work was done. Defendant denied liability claiming that plaintiff was an independent contractor and didn’t have to take the job if he didn’t want to. Defendant claimed that once he agreed to take the job, he assumed all risks of the job as an independent contractor. Plaintiff made a demand for the available homeowner’s policy limits and that demand was accepted by the carrier.