Earlier this year our law firm participated in a one week jury trial against a condominium association and a general contractor seeking damages for personal injuries sustained by our client, an elderly woman. The association hired the general contractor to rebuild a wood dock that ran, unimpeded, behind each condo unit in the community alongside a North Miami Beach canal. The first thing the contractor did was remove every other wood plank through the entire length of the dock. It then undertook to replace every plank, beginning in a small section and working east and west in each direction as the work progressed. After the GC had laid down 100 linear feet of new wood, it got into a dispute with the association over payment issues. This resulted in a complete work stoppage in late July of 2012; the GC performed no more work on the site after this point. Our accident happened on November 11, 2012, nearly four months later.
At the point of the work stoppage, the sections of the dock both to the east and west of the 100 foot completed portion remained demolished. Significantly, neither the GC nor the condominium association ever installed a transverse barrier blocking access to the demolished sections from the completed portion.
Our client did volunteer work to reelect President Obama. On November 11, 2012, five days after the election, she was attending a victory party at a townhome located in the condominium complex. The completed portion of the dock was located behind the townhome. During the party our client exited the rear of the townhome. She turned right, west, on the dock and began a leisurely stroll. She was unaware of the demolition work. Dim ground lighting lined the length of the dock. She was viewing the boats lining both sides of the canal and enjoying the reflections in the water as she walked. With one step she went from the healthy dock into the demolished area, falling straight down through an opening in the dock where there had once been a wood board. Her fall was broken when both arms caught on portions of the deck. This caused her right humerus bone to snap in half. Dangling in the hole unable to extricate herself, she was eventually rescued when someone heard her screams for help.
The jury‟s verdict assigned fault for Plaintiff‟s injuries as follows:
Condo Association: 15%
General Contractor: 25%
Party Host: 50%
None of the parties (our client, the condo association and the GC were the parties to the lawsuit; the party host was not) have challenged the jury‟s apportionment of fault. We have filed a motion for entry of final judgment asking the court to make the condo association and the GC jointly and severally liable for 90% of the liability. Our legal theory is that each had a nondelegable duty to maintain safety on the dock. We expect the defendants to oppose the motion.
Florida common law imposes upon a property owner or possessor a nondelegable duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, a duty that applies to condominium associations. Florida law also provides that the nondelegable duty to maintain property in a reasonably safe condition may also arise from statutory and contractual obligations, such as those that apply to the condo association in our case.