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Florida Case Law Update

Author: Amy Chambers

Guest Editor: Ashley Kaye

September 30, 2019 10:00am

Kreuger v. Quest Diagnostics Inc., et al., Case No. 2D18-3823 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019)

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals reversed judgment in favor of the defense and remanded the premises liability case for new trial.

Background

Plaintiff, a disabled elderly man, sued strip mall owners MPN LLC and Bruce Strumpf Inc. after tripping and falling near a curb in the strip mall’s parking lot.  The complaint alleged defendants negligently maintained the strip mall parking lot by failing to provide a suitable curb cut that would have allowed handicapped patrons a sufficiently direct access to and from the handicapped spaces in the vicinity of Quest Diagnostics, Inc., a medical facility he had been visiting that day.

At trial, the judge excluded the testimony of plaintiff’s retained expert on grounds plaintiff planned to improperly argue the Florida Accessibility Code is a safety code.  The trial court determined the Accessibility Code, which is part of the state’s building code, is not a safety code but rather an “access” code.

Holding

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals explained that what constitutes compliance with a particular building code provision is an issue for the jury to decide in cases like plaintiff’s, and it was improper for the trial court to have attempted to apply a legal distinction between building codes that serve to foster “access” as opposed to those that serve to advance “safety.”

The appellate court went on to state that in excluding plaintiff’s evidence, the trial court “effectively stymied a proper consideration” of the issue of whether plaintiff was owed a legal duty.  Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

 

Grace and Naeem Uddin Inc. v. Singer Architects, et al., Case No. 4D18-2972 (Fla. 4th DCA, 2019)

Background

In this matter, Broward County hired a contractor for an airport improvement project.  The county also entered into a separate contract with an architectural firm, which it assigned consultant and administrative duties.  The county subsequently terminated its contract with the contractor.  The contractor filed a breach of contract claim against the county and a professional negligence claim against the architectural firm.

The architectural firm moved for partial summary judgment, arguing it did not owe the contractor a duty of care and therefore the contractor could not recover contract damages in tort.  The trial court granted the motion, agreeing with the architectural firm that it did not owe the contractor a duty of care in its role as the county’s consultant.  The contractor appealed.

Holding

On appeal, the contractor argued it had provided sufficient evidence establishing the architect’s authority over its work pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court holding in A.R. Moyer Inc. v. Graham, 285 So. 2d 397 (Fla. 1973), which states an architect is open to a contractor’s liability claims if negligent behavior costs the contractor financially.

The Third District Court of Appeal agreed with the contractor, stating the fact the principal architect admitted he knew his recommendation could remove the contractor from the project evidenced the architectural firm’s decision-making power, and that the county relied on the firm’s opinion when making its final decision to terminate the contract with the contractor.

The Court also noted the contract between the county and the architect stipulated it was partly responsible for issuing the final documentation needed to compensate the contractor.  Based on the terms of the contracts, the court determined the architectural firm was given “near absolute authority regarding payments to the contractor, demonstrating the architect’s influence over the contractor’s economic vitality.”

As for the architectural firm’s argument the contractor could not recover contract damages for a tort claim, the Court disposed of this argument, holding that overlapping damages claims are a “post-judgment issue,” and the argument was, therefore, premature.

The Court consequently reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant architect.

 

Susan Plott v. NCL America, LLC, Case No. 19-10109 (11th Cir. 2019)

Background

Plaintiff filed a negligence action against a cruise line after she slipped in a puddle on a ship deck and fell down two steps after exiting a hot tub and walking to the elevators.  Plaintiff alleged the puddle formed after a number of people ran to get out of the rain on the night of the fall.  The fall occurred approximately 25 minutes after the rain stopped.

The district court ruled there was a genuine issue of fact regarding whether the floor amounted to a dangerous condition, but the facts were undisputed that the cruise line had no notice of the dangerous condition.  Thus, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant cruise line.

Holding

The appellate court reversed, finding there was a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of notice.  The Court explained under maritime law, “the owner of a ship in navigable waters owes the passengers a duty of reasonable care…,” and that this standard requires as a prerequisite to imposing liability, that the carrier have had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.  Further, “a maritime plaintiff can establish constructive notice with evidence that the defective condition existed for a sufficient period of time to invite corrective measures.  (Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. (2019) 920 F.3d 710, 720).

The Court held there was a material fact as to whether the cruise line had notice the floor was wet.  A reasonable fact finder could determine the subject puddle was a result of water from the passengers that fled the rain.  Additionally, the steps on which plaintiff fell were in a glass atrium next to a bar where two crew members were working at the time of the fall, and the puddle remained in a “continuously monitored” area for about half an hour.  Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.

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