Florida law is usually friendly to general/prime contractors in a situation where a subcontractor has acted improperly during a construction or renovation project. This liability divide can—and should—be clearly delineated in the contract entered into between the contractor, subcontractor, and project owner. As is the case with many things in construction law, though, there are exceptions to the rule. A few conditions can lead to a contractor becoming liable for the acts or omissions of a subcontractor.
‘Meddlesome Employer’ Exception
Several Florida court cases have resulted in a few exceptions to the rule on a contractor not being liable for the actions of one or more subcontractors. Indian River Foods Inc. v. Braswell (1995) cemented the legal concept of a meddlesome employer.
The effect of this and other rulings mean that general contractors can be held liable for the actions of subcontractors if the general contractor becomes too involved in the subcontractor’s work. In court, it must be shown that the general contractor actually interfered with the way the subcontractor performed the work.
In almost every project, the general contractor will perform a certain level of supervision over other parties working on the project. For instance, the general contractor has general obligations to keep the worksite safe. If the level of supervision becomes too high, though, and the subcontractor commits an act or omission that approaches negligence, the general contractor could ultimately be liable.
A few actions on the part of general contractors that do not constitute a meddlesome employer include:
- Ordering the subcontractor to stop or resume work
- Receiving reports on the subcontractor’s progress
- Inspecting the subcontractor’s work
- Recommending or suggesting ways for the subcontractor to perform work
- Prescribing alterations
Similarly, it can be shown that the general contractor did not substantially control the work performed by the subcontractor based on the party that supplied labor, tools, and equipment. A subcontractor that handled those three important components of the job will not typically be able to shift liability onto the general contractor.
The concept of the “meddlesome employer” often has much more to do with injuries suffered to workers during the project or occupants of a structure due to a construction defect. Again, the contract you sign with a subcontractor should clearly state where your liability ends and where another’s liability begins. Next month, we’ll take a look at another exception to liability immunity for general contractors.
Florida Construction Law Group provides top-notch legal service for general contractors and other construction professionals during contract negotiations. Our Miami firm also handles a wide variety of litigation matters arising from construction disputes. Call us at (305) 227-4030 today to set up a time to speak.