Florida Premises Liability Law – Duty Owed to Independent Contractors

Whether a person injured on real property owned or controlled by another will be successful in bringing a claim for damages, depends in large part on the injured person’s status on the property at the time of the accident. The general categories and the duty owed under each are set forth in the following outline:

  • Public Invitee. A person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. (Example: Child in a public park.) This landowner has the following duties: (1) to correct or warn of dangers that the owner knows or should know of by the use of reasonable care, and which the visitor cannot or should not know of by the use of reasonable care; and (2) to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. (See my previous blog on this subject.)
  • Business Invitee. A person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land. (Examples: A grocery story patron; a paying fan at a Miami Dolphins football game.) Duty: same as for Public Invitee.
  • Licensee By Invitation. A social guest. Duty: same as for Public Invitee.
  • Uninvited Licensee. A person who chooses to come upon the premises solely for his or her own convenience without invitation either expressed or reasonably implied under the circumstances. (Example: teenagers partying in a parking lot owned by a business establishment.) Duty: To refrain from willful or wanton injury (e.g., to remove any concealed “traps” of which the owner has actual knowledge).
  • Trespasser. A person who enters the premises without license, invitation, or other right, and intrudes for some definite purpose of his own, or at his own convenience, or merely as an idler with no apparent purpose, other than perhaps to satisfy his curiosity. Duty: same as for Uninvited Licensee.

Independent contractors injured on the premises do not fit squarely within any of these categories. As a general rule, one who hires an independent contractor is not liable for injuries sustained by that contractor’s employees in their work. As the Supreme Court observed in Conklin v. Cohen, 287 So.2d 56, 60 (Fla.1973): if the owner is a passive nonparticipant, exercising no direct control over the project, he cannot be held liable.

A second line of cases bars the claims of independent contractors whose injuries were sustained while performing the independent contractor’s specialized work. In Morales v. Weil, 44 So. 3d 173 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), the contractor was hired to demolish a barn with a roof damaged by two hurricanes. The damage was obvious and included a hole through the roof that was visible to the employees. However, in the course of the work one of the employees fell through a weakened roof panel and was injured. The Fourth District reviewed the applicable law and affirmed a summary judgment for the barn owners. The Court concluded that “the [owners] were in no better position than the [injured contractor employee] to assess the level of danger that the job posed. Consequently, the [owners] owed him no duty to maintain the roof in a reasonably safe condition.” Id. at 179.

Not surprisingly, exceptions apply to the exceptions.

One of the exceptions was stated by the Supreme Court in the Conklin case: the owner may be held liable if he has been actively participating in the construction to the extent that he directly influences the manner in which the work is performed. At page 60.

Florida law has followed this standard, which is also outlined in Restatement (Second) of Torts section 414, which provides: One who entrusts work to an independent contractor, but who retains the control of any part of the work, is subject to liability for physical harm to others for whose safety the employer owes a duty to exercise reasonable care, which is caused by his failure to exercise his control with reasonable care.

See Martin v. Venice Hosp., 603 So.2d 1377, (Fla. 2d DCA 1992); Clerkin v. Kendall Town & Country Assoc., 535 So.2d 288 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988).

The other exception to the general rule is similar to that stated in section (1), above, of the duties owed to “Public Invitees.” When an owner has actual or constructive knowledge of latent or potential dangers on the premises, he has a duty to warn employees [of the independent contractor] of such danger. Johnson v. Boca Raton Cmty. Hosp., Inc., 985 So. 2d 593, 596 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).

As this blog demonstrates, it is important for a person who has been seriously injured on another person’s property, to seek the opinion of a lawyer about the merit of the case. Contact us today to arrange a free, confidential consultation to discuss your important legal matter.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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