Defendants in Florida personal injury lawsuits often fight intensely over indemnification issues, determining which party is on the hook for any damages awarded. It’s also important that the person suing be mindful of these issues, however, as indemnity can determine the amount the person ultimately recovers. In United Rentals v. Mid-Continent Casualty Company, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains the difference between seeking indemnity for a party’s own negligence, as opposed to the negligence of someone else.
Mr. Medina was injured in a construction site accident in which he was struck by a boulder that fell out of the bucket of a front end loader operated by Jackson, his co-worker. Gen-X Construction had leased the machine from United Rentals.
Medina sued both companies, Jackson, and other parties for negligence in state court. Specifically, he claimed that Gen-X was negligent in failing to provide a safe work place and failing to properly train Jackson. Against United, he claimed that the company was vicariously liable under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. The doctrine provides that the owner of an instrumentality that is “peculiarly dangerous in its operation” is liable for injuries caused by the instrumentality’s negligent operation by anyone who uses it with the owner’s consent.
United, in turn, alleged a number of cross-claims against Gen-X related to its allegation that Gen-X agreed to indemnify all claims against United related to use of the front loader – and to procure insurance in order to do so – when it signed a form rental agreement. Gen-X, on the other hand, defended that the indemnity agreement was invalid because it violated § 725.06, Florida Statutes. This law voids indemnity agreements to the extent that a party seeks indemnity for its own active negligence.
Here, however, the court said that United was seeking to have Gen-X indemnify it for Medina’s vicarious liability against the company. “United’s claim for indemnification is thus necessarily premised on Gen-X indemnifying United for someone else’s negligence (here [Mr.] Jackson’s) which does not run afoul of Section 725.06,” the court explained. Similarly, the agreement required Gen-X to procure insurance in order to guard against claims alleging negligence by a party other than United. As a result, the court rejected Gen-X’s claim that the agreement terms were unenforceable.
As this case makes clear, the specific person or entity causing an accident is not necessarily the only one responsible for it. While the particular indemnity issue in this case circled around the defendants, the legal ramifications of indemnity decisions can often play a role in the size of the award for a person injured by another’s negligence. Identifying the wrongdoers and responsible parties in any given case can be a complex and time-consuming process and it is important that a person injured in an accident consult an experienced attorney who can do the necessary digging.
At Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida personal injury lawyers pride ourselves in responsive, diligent, and cost-effective representation. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Pompano Beach, Boca Raton and Coral Springs. If you or a loved one was injured in a construction, auto or other accident in Florida, you are invited to take advantage of a free consultation. You can contact the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733, or submit an online “Contact Us” form.
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