In an interesting opinion, an injured employee of an electrical subcontractor sued the general contractor of a parking garage project under a premise liability theory after being injured when stepping on an uncovered floor drain at the project site. There is no discussion in the opinion as to workers compensation immunity. Rather, the discussion centers on the injured employee’s premise liability claim as to whether the general contractor “breached its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition by leaving the drain uncovered and failing to warn of the danger of the uncovered drain.” Pratus v. Marzucco’s Construction & Coatings, Inc., 46 Fla.L.Weekly D186a (Fla. 2d DCA 2021)
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor finding that the drain was open and obvious on the site. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment with a discussion as to premise liability claims, particularly as it pertains to a business invitee, which is what the injured employee of the electrical subcontractor was.
First, the Second District held that as a business invitee, the general contractor owed the injured employee two duties: “(1) the duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition; and (2) the duty to warn of dangers of which the owner has or should have knowledge and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered by the invitee through the exercise of reasonable care. ” Pratus, supra (internal quotations and citation omitted).
Second, the Second the Second District held that “[t]he obvious danger doctrine provides that an owner or possessor of land is not liable for injuries to an invitee caused by a dangerous condition on the premises when the danger is known or obvious to the injured party, unless the owner or possessor should anticipate the harm despite the fact that the dangerous condition is open and obvious.” Pratus, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Third, the Second District held that the issue was not whether the floor drain was open and obvious, but whether the uncovered floor drain—the alleged dangerous condition—was open and obvious and involves a consideration of “all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident and the alleged dangerous condition.” Pratus, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).
And fourth, the Second District held irrespective of whether the alleged dangerous condition was open and obvious, the general contractor “still had a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition if it could have anticipated the harm to [the injured employee] as a result of the uncovered drain.” Pratus, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted). This required the contractor to establish “it should not have anticipated the potential harm to [the injured employee] as a result of the uncovered drain, notwithstanding his knowledge of the danger.” Id.
Does this case open the door for premise liability claims against a general contractor as a possessor of the construction site? It is uncertain because of the lack of discussion of workers compensation immunity. Perhaps this was an issue in the case because there was no workers compensation to cover the inured employee. Or, perhaps this was an argument around workers compensation immunity. Regardless, this case highlights the significance in ensuring there are safety protocols and training in place on every project, no matter how big or small!
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