Non Delegable Duties and Florida Subcontracting
In business, there is only so much anyone can control. As tightly as we hone in on our crafts and rigidly observe our best business practices: sometimes there are third parties involved that we just cannot control. So what happens if an independent contractor performs their work negligently? Who is liable? Well, the First District Court of Appeals recently considered and ruled on this issue. While this court is not the authority over Sarasota cases, the remaining Florida District Courts will certainly eye the decision by its sister court in making their own future rulings in similar matters.
So – what did Florida’s First District Court of Appeals decide, as to who is liable when an independent contractor performs their work negligently? Well, according to that court, the answer lies in whether the negligent work involved the performance of a “non-delegable duty.”
First, it is important to understand that a “non-delegable duty” is a duty or responsibility that is so important to the community that an employer should not be allowed to transfer that responsibility to a third party. Such a duty may be imposed by common law, or statute/contract.
Garcia v. Southern Cleaning Service, Inc.
This issue was recently addressed by the First District Court of Appeal. In the court case the individual Garcia, a Winn-Dixie employee, was allegedly injured from a slippery floor. Winn-Dixie had entered into a contract for floor cleaning with Southern Cleaning Service. Southern Cleaning Service subsequently subcontracted the task over to Pam Cleaning Inc. (Pam). Pam is an independent contractor. After their injury Garcia filed a negligence action against Southern Cleaning Service, making the claim that the company was liable for negligent acts of their independent subcontractor, Pam.
The key item at issue was whether the duty that Southern Cleaning Service contracted over to Pam was non-delegable. The First District Court of Appeal recognized that a party that hires an independent contractor may be liable for that contractor’s negligence if it involves a non delegable duty.
Garcia argued that a nondelegable duty was present, based upon a contract between Winn-Dixie and Southern Cleaning Service. Garcia argued that this contract contained an indemnity provision that Garcia was not party to. Southern Cleaning argued that under Garcia’s argument (that if the Court deemed Garcia’s argument to be valid), then each time a contractor and landowner entered into a contract with an indemnity provision, they will have opened themselves to liability claims of people who are not parties to the contract.
The First District Court of Appeal agreed with Southern Cleaning Service and affirmed a prior summary judgment on its behalf (meaning Garcia did not prevail in this specific suit). The Court held that Southern Cleaning Service’s contract with Winn-Dixie did not create a liability to third persons (in this case, Garcia), who are not parties to the contract, for negligent acts of the independent contractor.
This case highlights that when a business subcontracts work to independent contractors, that business must consider and be wary whether the type of work that is contracted may entail peculiar risks that might create a non delegable duty to a non-party to a contract.
To read more on this case, see the link in the sources section below.
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