The Slavin doctrine is an affirmative defense primarily geared to the personal injury context designed to protect contractors from third-party negligence-type claims when an owner accepts a patent defect.
The Slavin doctrine protects contractors from liability for injuries to third parties by presuming that the owner has made a “reasonably careful inspection” of the contractor’s work prior to accepting it as completed; if the owner accepts the contractor’s work as complete and an alleged defect is patent, then the owner “accepts the defects and the negligence that caused them as his own,” and the contractor will no longer be liable for the patent defect.
“[T]he test for patency is not whether or not the condition was obvious to the owner, but whether or not the dangerousness of the condition was obvious had the owner exercised reasonable care.” While in most cases, the patency or latency of a dangerous condition is a question of fact for the jury, thereby precluding summary judgment, there are exceptions where the undisputed material facts establish that if there was a defect, then that defect would have been patent.
Valiente v. R.J. Behar & Company, Inc., 2018 WL 2708712, *2 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018) (internal quotations omitted).
Valiente is a recent decision where the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, ruled in favor of contractors (and an engineer) as to the applicability of the Slavin doctrine in a wrongful death action. In this case, the decedent was killed in 2008 when his motorcycle ran into another vehicle at an intersection. The estate claimed that the shrubs in the swale create a dangerous condition by blocking the view of motorists and causing the accident. The shrubs were planted in 2005 as part of a city’s roadway project. The estate sued the city, the designer, the general contractor, and the nursery hired by the city to provide the landscaping for the roadway project.
The designer, contractor, and nursery moved for summary judgment on their Slavin doctrine affirmative defense. They all claimed they should be relieved of liability for the accident (and, thus, the death) because the work was long completed, the City accepted the work, and the alleged defect dealing with the shrubs blocking passing motorist’s views was patent. The evidence revealed that when the shrubs were originally planted they were 2 feet taller than the maximum height required.
For purposes of patency under the Slavin doctrine, the relevant question is: if the plantings [shubs] created a visual obstruction (the alleged dangerous condition), was that dangerous condition latent or patent? And, to reiterate, the test for patency, is not what the City knew, but rather, what the City could have discovered [the dangerous condition] had the City performed a reasonably careful inspection.
Valiente, 2018 WL at *2.
Here, because the it was ruled that the city accepted a patent defect, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on their Slavin doctrine defense.
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