Liability of Property Owner to WorkerPersonal Injury
In the case of Martex Corporation v. Roberto Artiles, Case Number 3D21-2119 (Fla. 3rd DCA January 11, 2023), Florida’s Third DCA held that a worker injured by falling through a sky light had a valid question as to whether the property owner was aware of a concealed danger and should have warned the worker.
Artiles, the injured worker, was working on the roof of Martex, a commercial warehouse in Miami. At the time of his injury, he was on the roof to access an air conditioning unit when he fell though a skylight resulting in death. Artiles was an independent contractor at the time of the incident.
The trial judge granted a summary judgment in favor of Artiles and a jury trial later resulted in a $12,000,000 verdict in favor of Artiles. Martex appealed.
The Third DCA stated the following citing Fuentes v. Sandel, Inc., 189 So. 3d 928, 932 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2016) and Castaneda ex rel Cardona v. Redlands Christian Migrant Ass’n, Inc., 884 So. 2d 1087, 1090 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004):
There is a long-standing line of cases in construction law that provides the following rules regarding whether a property owner should be held liable for an independent contractor’s employee’s injuries:
As a general rule, “a property owner who employs an independent contractor to perform work on his property will not be held liable for injuries sustained by the employee of an independent contractor during the performance of that work.”
Strickland, 66 So. 3d at 1006. There are two exceptions to this rule. First, a property owner may be held liable for an independent contractor’s employee’s injuries if the owner actively participated in the work or exercised direct control over
the work, and failed to exercise that control with reasonable care. Id.; Armenteros v. Baptist Hosp. of Miami, Inc., 714 So. 2d 518, 521 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). The second exception applies where the property owner fails to warn the contractor about concealed dangers not inherent in the work of which the owner had actual
or constructive knowledge and which were unknown to the contractor or could not have been discovered through due care. Id.
Obviously this case involves the second part involving whether there was a duty to warn. The case indicates that the warehouse had prior work done to the skylights without a permit. In the Fuentes case cited above, the independent contractor had been warned about the skylights and, as a result, the court in Fuentes found that the property owner had no legal duty beyond warning to the injured worker. In this case, however, it is possible that Martex knew or should have known of the concealed danger due to the allegation of unpermitted work. This possibility would preclude summary judgment in favor of the warehouse on liability and would be a cause for this issue to go to a jury trial. The same would also be true for the plaintiff, Artiles. Because this particular issue is disputed (whether Martex knew or should have known of a concealed danger), then summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff would also be inappropriate.
The Third DCA reversed the summary judgment in favor of Artiles accordingly.
Impact of This Case
This case clearly reiterates existing Florida law on a property owners duty to independent contractors who are hired to do work for the property and become injured while doing that work.
There are some who believe that simply hiring an independent contractor will completely eliminate liability for the property owner. While that is often the result, it is not automatic. Property owners who wish to avoid liability for injury to construction workers should remember to 1) not actively participate in the work, 2) do not exercise any direct control over the work (let the workers do the work), and 3) warn the workers against any known dangers.
Talk To A Lakeland Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured in an construction accident, you should get a consultation with a personal injury attorney at Russo Law. Even though construction workers are required under Florida law to have workers compensation, third party liability such as liability of the property owner may apply if the property participated in the work, exercised direct control, or failed to warn of a known concealed danger. A consultation with us is free.