Articles Posted in Workplace Injury

Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law extends immunity to contractors and subcontractors. As is to be expected, however, in order for such immunity to bar suit in a particular case, the company must fall within the applicable definition of “contractor.” Indeed, many companies may be in relationships that analogize to contract relationships but cannot—despite their best efforts otherwise—have recourse to the Workers’ Compensation Law to immunize themselves for injuries arising from their negligence. The scope of what constitutes a contractor for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Law was at the heart of a recent decision from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, Slora v. Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, Inc.

The plaintiff in this case was employed by U.S. Security Associates, Inc., a company that provided event security to Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, Inc., a company that operated an air show near Lakeland, Florida. In order to operate this air show, Sun ‘n Fun was required to obtain certain certificates of waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). The FAA granted the waivers, which came with various standard and specialized provisions with which Sun ‘n Fun needed to comply, including provisions for security. Sun n’ Fun contracted with U.S. Security to provide these required security measures, and the plaintiff was assigned to provide security during the air show. The plaintiff was working at a security guard shack at Lakeland Regional Airport when a tornado struck. The winds lifted the shack from the ground and deposited it in a ditch. The plaintiff made a workers’ compensation claim through her employer, which maintains workers’ compensation insurance. The claim was settled.

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Many jobs come with inherent risks, and although safety precautions often help prevent those risks from materializing into actual harm, precaution is occasionally insufficient. In a recent case, Vitrano v. Florida Power & Light Co., the Fourth District Court of Appeal looked at the passing of a tree trimmer who died from an inadvertent electrocution. Specifically, the Court had to determine whether the trial court had erred in denying the plaintiff’s request for a negligence per se jury instruction in a trial against the power company.

The decedent in this case was hired to trim the tree outside a South Florida home. A few days prior to the date the homeowner enlisted the decedent to trim his trees, a Florida Power & Light (“FPL”) representative had visited the homeowner’s abode and observed that the palm fronds on the homeowner’s tree were too close to the power lines. The representative told the homeowner of the issue and told the homeowner that FPL would arrange to have the trees trimmed. The homeowner declined the offer because he had already intended to have the trees trimmed. The representative, however, did not tell the homeowner that the tree nearest the line presented the greatest risk and that the homeowner should not have that tree trimmed. In addition, FPL did not provide a guard for the power line. Shortly thereafter, the decedent and his employees came to the homeowner’s home to perform the trimming work. The decedent started to climb the ladder, which a helper steadied at its base. The helper testified that a short time afterward he heard what sounded to be an electrical sound and saw the decedent fall from the ladder to the ground. He further testified that the palm fronds nearest the power lines seemed to be burned and appeared to be directly in contact with the power line. The decedent died as a result of the shock or his fall.

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