Liability and Non-Delegable Duties
Florida law imposes a non-delegable duty on certain negligent parties. What does it mean to have a non-delegable duty? In simple terms, this means that a party with a non-delegable duty is liable to an injured party even if they were not themselves negligent. The most common application of the non-delegable duty doctrine is where a property owner hires an independent contractor to perform maintenance or security at their property. For example, if the owner of a shopping mall hires a company to perform maintenance and a guest is injured by the negligence of the maintenance company, both the company and the mall owner are jointly and severally liable for the injuries. The law imposes on hotels, apartments, innkeepers, etc., the duty to keep their buildings, premises and appliances in a condition reasonably safe for the use of their guests, or at least those parts of the buildings and premises to which the guests are invited and may reasonably be expected to use. The duty of maintaining safe premises cannot be delegated to another.
It is true, of course, that a landowner may contract out the performance of his non-delegable duty to an independent contractor, but he cannot contract out of his ultimate legal responsibility for the proper performance of his duty by the independent contractor; the landowner is always responsible for the proper performance of this non-delegable duty, whether performed by himself, an employee, or an independent contractor.
What does joint and several liability mean? Under the joint and several doctrine, in cases involving multiple defendants, each negligent defendant is wholly responsible financially for the negligence of every other defendant. This concept especially benefits plaintiffs where one or more negligent defendant is financially unable to pay its share of the damages awarded, while one or more other defendants had the financial ability to satisfy the entire award.
For example, in the case of a shopping mall owner and its maintenance company, if a jury awards $1,000,000.00 to the Plaintiff, each one of the defendants would be liable for the full measure of damages. If the maintenance company is a “mom and pop” company with little assets or limited insurance, the plaintiff can recover the entire $1,000,000.00 from the mall owner because they had a non-delegable duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.
Under these circumstances, joint and several liability has a number of positive outcomes. Since the property owner is completely liable for the independent contractor’s fault, the property owner is encouraged to see that the services are performed properly. This creates a safer environment for people shopping at the mall.
It is important to know that joint and several liability has limited application. In most cases, this concept does not apply and a defendant is only liable for his percentage of fault. Contact a premises liability lawyer in Tampa, FL for information about your case.
Thanks to Jeff Murphy Law for their insight into liability and non-delegable duties.