New Florida Law Defines Negligence in Workers’ Compensation Cases

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By Stephanie Caudle

Personal injury cases often turn on whether one party was negligent. However, at law, negligence can have several different meanings. In some personal injury cases, the specific issue in the case comes down to whether the defendant was “grossly negligent,” or merely just “negligent.”

One such situation is presented in a recent Florida court of appeals case, Villalta v. Cornn International, LLC. In the case, Villalta was working for a sub-contractor on a larger project. Because it was a large project, there were several other sub-contractors working alongside the company Villalta worked for. One day while on the job, Villalta fell from some scaffolding and was seriously injured. In response, Villalta sued several parties including the company he worked for. In addition, Villalta sued another subcontractor who was working on the project. At issue here was Villalta’s suit against the other sub-contractor.

The sub-contractor sought dismissal from the case, arguing that under the Workers’ Compensation Law, Section 440.10, the sub-contractor must be dismissed unless the plaintiff’s employer’s “own gross negligence was not the major contributing cause of the injury.” At issue, then, was whether the negligence of the subcontractor that employed the plaintiff was the “major contributing cause” of the accident or if the other sub-contracting company was the major contributing cause.

The Court’s Decision at Trial

At trial, the court heard evidence that the defendant company failed to cover up a hole that was cut through the scaffolding. However, the court determined that this was merely negligent, rather than gross negligence. Therefore, the lower court dismissed the case against the defendant firm.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the court reversed. The court explained 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.” Because the question is properly reserved for the jury, it was not appropriate for the lower court to make the decision without the jury.
What This Case Means for Florida Personal Injury Plaintiffs

This case is fairly specific and is not likely to have a broad impact in Florida personal cases. The cases in which it will have an affect are those cases with similar facts, with an employee plaintiff bringing a suit against a subcontractor with whom he is not employed, but believes caused his job-related injuries.