Florida Court Apportions Liability in Dock Construction Injury Case
Construction accident cases often involve claims of liability alleged against owners, contractors, and subcontractors. Recently, in a case brought by an individual who was injured walking on the edge of an unfinished dock that was under construction, a Florida District Court of Appeal was called on to apportion liability among these parties.
What Happened in Walters v. Beach Club Villas?
The plaintiff in Walters v. Beach Club Villas attended a party hosted by two condominium owners at the defendant Beach Club’s condominium. At the time of the party, repair work had been started on the Beach Club’s boat dock, but the repairs were stalled because of a dispute between the defendant Beach club and the subcontractor it had hired to make the repairs. The plaintiff was injured while walking on the dock under repair.
After a trial in which damages were awarded to the plaintiff and fault was apportioned among the defendants, one issue raised on appeal was the apportionment of the percentage of fault among the defendants. The plaintiff argued that the Beach Club defendant should have been held jointly and severally liable for all of her damages.
What Did the Court Decide?
Generally, defendants who are apportioned fault are normally obligated to a plaintiff for damages in proportion to their own percentage of the fault, the court explained. In this case, however, a different rule applied, and the court went on to explain why.
In this case, the plaintiff party-goer had the legal status of an “invitee” on the condominium grounds. Generally, property owners must, with respect to invitees:
- use reasonable care to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition
- warn of latent or concealed dangers
In this case, the Beach Club defendant also a duty to maintain and repair the condominium’s common areas, including the dock, in a reasonably safe manner. This duty was based on the Beach Club defendant’s Declaration of Condominium, which adopted a Florida law requiring that condominium associations maintain common areas. According to the court, this created a duty to maintain the dock (and other common areas) on the part of the Beach Club defendant that could not be delegated to another party.
Based on this nondelegable duty, the court found that the Beach Club defendant was liable not only for the damages apportioned to it at trial, but, based on the nondelegable duty it had to maintain the dock, was also jointly and severally liable for any amount of damages that were apportioned to the independent contractor it had hired.
However, this nondelegable duty did not extend to the damages apportioned to the party hosts. Unlike the independent contractor, the court explained, the party hosts were not performing the same nondelegable duty of maintaining and repairing the dock. Rather, the alleged liability of the party hosts was based on their failure to warn the plaintiff of the dangerous condition of the dock. Therefore, the Beach Club defendant was not responsible for the portion of damages attributed to the party’s hosts.
For more information, or if you have questions about apportioning liability among construction contractors and property owners, contact a Fort Lauderdale business lawyer at Sweeney Law.