Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Independent Contractor Employee’s Wrongful Death Suit


Construction workers and their families often have workers’ compensation available to them in the event of an accident.  This helps provide needed funds for medical care and lost wages.  However, other parties may be responsible for the accident in the workplace, whether it is another subcontractor, the general contractor, or a separate third party altogether.  Under Florida law, an injured worker has the ability to file suit against any of these parties where standard negligence law applies.  To receive damages, the at-fault party must owe a duty to the injured under the law.

In Fuentes vs. Sandel, Inc. (No. 3D14-3007), the appellate court reviewed a summary judgment in a wrongful death case in favor of the defendants.  The deceased worker fell through a skylight while painting a warehouse roof as an independent contractor.  His wife filed suit against the owner of the property and the owner of the manufacturing business who hired her husband’s employer to paint the warehouse roof.  Prior to the fatal accident, the deceased painter’s employer and the president of the manufacturing company met.  The independent contractor employer was warned about the danger of the skylights and the need to be fastened to the safety ropes.  The contractors were specifically told that they would fall through if they stepped on the skylight. 

In the suit, the executor of the estate alleged that the manufacturing business and owner of the building were responsible for the death of the painter since they controlled, managed, and maintained the warehouse premises.  The suit alleged that there was a failure to comply with the building code, maintain the skylight, provide a guard or screen to prevent someone from falling, and warn against the danger.  The owner of the building and the owner of the manufacturing business moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no duty owed to the independent contractor, specifically the manufacturer, who only hired the painters but did not control their work.  The defendants also argued that there was a warning issued, and that the dangers were inherent in the work performed.  The trial court was persuaded by the defendants’ arguments and granted summary judgment. 

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling by looking to case law which specifically states there is no duty owed to an independent contractor by the owner who hired them to do a specific task.  Two exceptions exist in Florida case law.  A duty is created if the property owner actively participated in the work or had direct control over the work, failing to exercise the control with care.  A duty is also created if the property owner knew of concealed dangers not inherent in the work, or had actual or constructive knowledge of dangers that could not be easily discovered through due care.  The court, connecting case law to the facts of the present case, noted the estate’s failure to allege control or the existence of direct influence by the owner of the manufacturing business or the owner of the building.  The court also agreed that a warning was issued, and that the danger was apparent.  The summary judgment remained intact, once again foreclosing the estate’s ability to pursue action against the defendants.

The Florida wrongful death attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the personal injury experience you need to handle complex negligence actions.  We understand that workers’ compensation may not be enough to cover your expenses or the expenses of an estate, and will aggressively help you maximize damages through all available avenues of legal relief.  For a consultation, call our office at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Appellate Court Reinstates Injured Automobile Passenger Award of Over $93,000, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, February 17, 2016

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal Allows Child’s Wrongful Death Suit to Continue, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, January 18, 2016