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In Claudio Navarro v. Alfredo L. Borges, a construction laborer sued the general contractor and president of the company alleging they breached a duty to provide adequate safety equipment on the jobsite after he sustained injuries from a fall off a roof. On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendant.  2024 WL 1422996.

Claudio Navarro (“Navarro”), was a laborer for Star Brite Group, Inc. (“Star Brite”).  Defendant Alfredo Borges, the president of Star Brite, allegedly “oversaw and controlled” all aspects of Star Brite’s projects.

In early October, 2017, Borges instructed Navarro to place a tarp on the roof of a residence damaged during Hurricane Irma.  Navarro was not provided with any safety equipment, but the tarp was installed without incident.  Subsequently, on October 17, 2017, while working on another project, Navarro overheard two co-workers discussing an issue with the tarp having shifted and causing the roof to leak.  Borges had “given the order” to take corrective action, but no one had yet done so.   There was an insurance inspection scheduled for the following day and Borges arrived on the site “agitated” that the tarp had not yet been repaired. Navarro and another laborer assured Borges they would take care of it.

The following day, as arranged, Navarro and another laborer proceeded to the residence to secure and repair the tarp.  Navarro mounted the roof without any safety equipment and fell, sustaining significant injuries.

Navarro filed suit against Star Brite and Borges alleging they breached a duty to provide adequate safety equipment while Navarro was on site.  Borges moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence he had instructed Navarro to secure the tarp on the day of the incident.  Borges argued he had no duty to provide safety equipment because he had not given the order to secure the tarp. Navarro argued Borges had instructed him to fix the tarp during the conversation on October 17, 2017.

The trial court granted Borges’ Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis there was no evidence Navarro was acting under the direction of Borges when he was injured; therefore, Borges owed him no duty.  Navarro appealed.

The appellate court held, “[i]t is axiomatic that a contractor has the duty to provide a safe work site. Consequently, the contractor can be held liable for a dangerous condition it negligently created or approve.” (internal citations omitted).  The appellate court further stated individual officers of a contractor can be held personally liable when they have committed a tort, even if the act was done within the scope of their employment. However, the court differentiated passive negligence from active negligence, stating a plaintiff must “establish the corporate officer or agent was actively negligent” in creating or approving the dangerous condition.

The appellate court held the evidence, taken in a light most favorable to Navarro, established Borges gave the initial order to place the tarp on the roof, and no safety equipment was provided. Additionally, Borges gave a second order to fix the tarp once the tarp had shifted and created a leak, and still no safety equipment was provided.  Consequently, the Court concluded there was sufficient evidence to raise a question of whether Borges had engaged in active negligence by giving the order to place and fix the tarp without providing safety equipment to Navarro, a determination to be made by a jury. The Court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

General contractors, including the agents and officers thereof, should ensure they take all necessary steps to prevent creating or approving dangerous conditions on their work sites. As seen in this case, an officer of a general contractor giving an order is sufficient to establish active negligence if proper safety measures are not taken to carry out the order. In order to prevent liability, contractors should ensure safety measures are in place prior to providing instructions for laborers on the job site.