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Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Contractors in Motorcycle Accident Wrongful Death Case


Valiente v. R.J. Behar & Co., Inc. - Florida Third District Court of Appeal - June 6, 2018

Florida’s Third District Court of appeal recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of multiple defendants in a wrongful death case based upon the Slavin doctrine. The Slavin doctrine arises from a 1959 Florida Supreme Court decision in Slavin v. Kay and acts to cut off the liability of contractors after an owner has accepted the work, so long as the alleged defect is a patent defect that the owner could have discovered had it made a reasonably careful inspection.

In Valiente, the decedent was killed when his motorcycle collided with another vehicle at an intersection in Hialeah, Florida. Following the motorcycle accident, the decedent’s mother filed suit against several defendants, including the City of Hialeah and multiple contractors arguing they were negligent in planting shrubs that obstructed the view of drivers near the intersection.

The shrubs were planted as part of a roadway project planned by the City of Hialeah. The City hired the various contractors to complete the job, and, two years prior to the accident, the City accepted the work despite the fact that, when planted, the shrubs were more than two feet taller than the maximum height permitted by Miami-Dade’s Public Works Manual.

The Plaintiff argued that these shrubs blocked the view of passing motorists and caused the fatal accident. As a result, Plaintiffs filed suit against multiple defendants, including three contractors that worked on the project. The contractors moved for summary judgment based upon the Slavin doctrine arguing that because the alleged defect in their work was patent, they could not be held liable.

The 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. Generally, the question of patency is left for a jury to decide.

However, in Valiente, the Third District affirmed the trial court’s award of summary judgment in favor of the contractors ruling that “because any visual obstruction these shrubs might have posed could have been discovered by the City upon a reasonable inspection, the alleged visual obstruction would have been patent” and therefore absolved the contractors of any liability for the motorcycle accident. Accordingly, the decedent’s mother could not proceed to trial against these contractors as it was the City of Hialeah that accepted the work and therefore had the responsibility to remedy any of the defects present.

At Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, we thoroughly investigate each case in order to determine which party or parties bear responsibility for dangerous conditions on property that cause injury or death.

Read this article as it was published in the Dade County Bar Association Bulletin.