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City Contractors Found Not Liable for Obstructive Shrubbery

InjuryComp

In early July, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion clarifying the legal standard by which contractor liability is determined. Ultimately, the court held that a contractor was not liable for a motorcycle accident allegedly caused by overgrown shrubbery that obstructed the motorists’ views. In these types of cases, Florida courts are required to apply the Slavin doctrine when issuing their rulings. This doctrine relieves contractors of liability for injuries sustained by third parties when the work is completed, the owner accepts the work, and the defect that caused the accident was patent. These kinds of cases tend to be complicated, as they usually involve multiple defendants, so if you were injured as a result of a contractor error, it is critical to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can evaluate your case.

The Court’s Opinion  

The recent decision involved the filing of a wrongful death claim on behalf of the plaintiff’s son who was killed in a motorcycle wreck when he went into an intersection and was struck by another vehicle. According to the plaintiff, the accident was a result of shrubs that obscured the vision of those who came closer to the intersection and so filed a claim against the company that planned the landscaping project, as well as the general contractor in charge of the project. According to the plaintiff, these entities were liable for the wreck because, but for the presence of the shrubbery, the collision would not have occurred. The contractors rejected this claim, instead seeking dismissal based on the Slavin doctrine, which precludes liability in certain cases, namely when:

  • The contractors’ project is complete;
  • The owner of the property accepted the work; and
  • The cause of the plaintiff’s injury, or the obstruction is obvious at the time that the project is accepted.

In this case, the court acknowledged that the first two elements were clearly fulfilled, as the project was completed several years prior, and so focused on the third factor during its analysis, which required an assessment of whether the cause of the injury was patent. According to the Slavin doctrine, it is only when an alleged hazard is patent, or obvious, that the property owner can be said to have accepted responsibility for potential accidents, releasing the contractor from liability.

The Patent Test 

When determining whether a defect was patent requires an analysis of whether the dangerousness of the condition would have been obvious if the property owner had exercised reasonable care when conducting an inspection of the initial project. Based on this assessment, the court determined that the Slavin doctrine did relieve the contractors of liability in this case because if the shrubs had indeed created a visual obstruction, the obstruction would have been patent, or obvious when the project was completed. As a result, the contractors were relieved from liability for the decedent’s accident.

Call Our Legal Team Today for Assistance 

Cases involving municipalities and contractors involve a number of complicated legal issues, so if you were injured in an accident and believe that one or more of these entities were at fault, you need the advice of a dedicated attorney who has the resources and experience to aggressively protect your interests. Please call Boone & Davis at 954-566-9919 to learn more about your legal options.

Resource:

3dca.flcourts.org/Opinions/3D15-1049.pdf

Boone & Davis, Attorneys at Law is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and serves clients in and around Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach and Broward County.

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