In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at instances where Florida prime contractors may become liable for the actions of subcontractors. Generally, prime contractors in Florida are NOT liable for the results of actions undertaken by subcontractors. However, there are a few notable exceptions.
Sometimes, a general contractor enters into an agreement with a property owner or manager that contains a non-delegable duty. This means that, even though the prime contractor hired a subcontractor to do a certain job or perform a certain aspect of the prime contractor’s job, the subcontractor is not liable for personal injuries caused by the work.
Who Pulled the Permit?
The legal concept attached to a permit-based non-delegable duty is simple: if a prime contractor pulls the permit for a construction or renovation project, the prime contractor may assume liability for some parts of a subcontractor’s work. Florida case law, however, makes it clear that vicarious liability based on the entity that pulled the permit can only be decided after a fact-intensive investigation.
In Florida, a “qualifying agent” is an entity with the legal obligation to “supervise, direct, manage, and control” the work performed under a construction project’s permit. Florida law generally requires construction contractors to employ at least one (DBPR-licensed) qualifying agent. Work performed by subcontractors, with the knowledge of the prime contractor that hired the subcontractor, may expose the prime contractor to liability. That liability may be mitigated, however, if the subcontractor performed work outside the scope of the permit.
What Does the Contract State?
In some cases, determining whether or not the prime contractor is vicariously liable for the acts of a subcontractor goes to the text of the contract between the project owner and the prime contractor. More specifically, express terms included in the contract may create a contractual obligation for the prime contractor if the prime contractor specifically agreed to perform a task.
For example, the contract between the owner and prime contractor may create a non-delegable duty for the prime contractor to protect the public from various safety hazards. Even though the prime contractor may have hired a subcontractor, the hazards mentioned in the original contract must still be prevented by the prime contractor.
ConclusionIn most cases, Florida courts hold that prime contractors and employers are not vicariously liable for the actions of independent contractors/subcontractors. From the writing of the original contract to the prime contractor’s actions during the contract’s performance, however, there are plenty of opportunities to assume liability on behalf of third parties. That’s why it’s so important to hire a Florida construction attorney who is experienced in litigation and contract drafting. We look forward to speaking with you soon!