Appeals Court Affirms Summary Judgment for Contractor on Common Law Indemnity Cross Claim
When a home renovation project goes wrong and leads to litigation, the lawsuit brought by the homeowner will ultimately seek to determine who among potentially responsible parties – including contractors and various subcontractors – is responsible for any and all of the damage that occurred. In this type of lawsuit, the various contractors and various subcontractors involved in the project may therefore be named as defendants, and the homeowner will be the plaintiff.
What is a Cross Claim?
In a lawsuit that involves several defendants, the defendants may also seek to determine who among them is responsible for the damage that occurred. In order to do so within the context of the lawsuit, the law allows them to assert claims against one another. These types of claims – claims asserted by one defendant against another – are known as cross-claims. Cross claims are frequently asserted by one defendant against another in construction litigation cases.
Recently, for example, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District, considered a case involving a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to a contractor on its cross claim against a subcontractor painter. This case, Brother’s Painting & Pressure Cleaning Corp. v. Curry-Dixon Construction, involved damages that resulted from a fire that occurred in a condominium unit the contractor and subcontractor painter were renovating for the plaintiffs. The fire damaged the condominium. In the lawsuit that was subsequently filed against them, the contractor filed a cross claim against the subcontractor painter for “common law indemnification.”
What Happened in Brother’s Painting & Pressure Cleaning Corp. v. Curry-Dixon Construction?
According to the undisputed facts, the fire that caused the damage was caused solely by the subcontractor painter’s negligence – one of the painter’s subcontractor’s employees left a rag soaked in an oil-based stain had been left in a plastic garbage bin, and this rag spontaneously combusted, causing the fire.
The contractor’s cross claim for common law indemnification claim basically asserted that:
- the painters were solely responsible for the fire and the damage to the condominium unit because of their own negligence, and
- although the contractor was vicariously liable for the painter’s negligence, the contractor was also entitled to be indemnified for this liability by the painter.
The lower court granted the contractor’s motion for summary judgment on the indemnification claim. The appeals court agreed. The appeals court decided, among other things, that
- the subcontractor painter was aware of its duty to remove the oily rags from the condominium but failed to do so
- the contractor was not “actively negligent” for failing to empty the trash before leaving the condominium or failing to provide a special bin for disposing of the rags
- settlements of the contractor and/or painter subcontractor’s claims with the plaintiffs did not preclude the contractor from prevailing on its common law indemnity claim.
Construction litigation involving claims asserted by plaintiffs against several defendants, and claims asserted by several defendants against one another, can be confusing and complex. If you have questions about such a case, or are involved in a situation that you believe may give rise to such claims, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale construction lawyer at Sweeney Law.