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Negligence in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Personal injury cases usually deal with the negligence of a party  A simple definition of “negligence” is doing something, or failing to do something, that places another person at increased risk of harm.  Even if a person is “negligent” there conduct must cause harm to another.  This concept is called “legal causation”, which is often times simply referred to as “causation”.  In this article, we focus on negligence in the workplace, which in Florida involves the workers compensation statutory laws.  Worker compensation cases do NOT require proof of negligence or fault. Florida’s policy behind this scheme is to assist workers who are injured on the job to obtain immediate and necessary medical care and wage loss reimbursement.

The Florida First District Court of Appeals case, Villalta v. Cornn International, LLC, deals with a Plaintiff who was working for a subcontractor on a larger project. Due to the large size of the project, there were multiple subcontractors working alongside the company that employed the Plaintiff. While on the job, the Plaintiff fell from scaffolding and sustained serious injuries. The Plaintiff then sued several parties, including the subcontractor he worked under. The Plaintiff simultaneously sued another subcontractor who was also working on the project. The issue brought before the courts dealt with the lawsuit brought by the Plaintiff against the other subcontractor, Tropic Aire.

Tropic Aire argued for a dismissal, asserting that under Workers’ Compensation Law, Section 440.10, the subcontractor must be dismissed unless the Plaintiff’s employer’s “own gross negligence was not the major contributing cause of the injury.” At issue in this case, then, was whether the negligence of the subcontractor that employed the Plaintiff was the “major contributing cause” of the accident, or if the other subcontracting company, Tropic Aire, was the major contributing cause.

At the trial level, the court heard evidence that Tropic Aire failed to cover up a hole in the scaffolding. The trial court determined that this was negligence, not gross negligence. Therefore, the case against Tropic Aire was dismissed. On appeal, however, the court reversed the trial court’s decision. The appellate court found that, “the line between simple and gross negligence is often uncertain and indistinct, and in such circumstances, the question of whether negligence is simple or gross, should ordinarily be resolved by the jury.”

The appellate court noted that there was evidence that Tropic Aire created the “cut outs” in the scaffolding and that applicable safety regulations required that they be covered with painted coverings in order to warn people of possible danger. While the superintendent for the main contractor on the project asked Tropic Aire about the coverings, the company failed to ensure they were in place at the time of the accident. Moreover, evidence was presented that the accident was caused by the lack of these coverings. Other workers who were present at the time testified that a scaffold wheel got stuck in an uncovered “cutout” causing it to collapse and sending the Plaintiff crashing to the ground from 16 feet above. Because there was enough evidence presented to send the question of whether Tropic Aire was grossly negligent to a jury, it was not appropriate for the lower court to make this determination.

If you or a loved one was recently injured in a worksite accident, contact Wittmer & Linehan PLLC. Our lawyers represent clients in the Sarasota and Manatee areas and are dedicated to achieving the maximum possible recovery following an accident.