Florida Appellate Court Overturns Summary Judgment Ruling and Clarifies When an Employment Relationship Arises

A Florida appellate court recently overturned a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in a negligence case involving an air show. In Slora v. Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In, Inc., the plaintiff suffered injuries after a tornado struck a security booth at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. During the tornado, the plaintiff was working as a security guard through a security staffing agency, which had agreed to supply security personnel for the airport during the company organizing the airshow. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had jurisdiction over the airshow company’s activities. One of the FAA’s regulations, and a condition to the airshow, required the airshow company to file certificates of waiver with the FAA and to hire security and police personnel for the show.

The injured security guard filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, which was ultimately granted. Next, the injured worker filed a lawsuit against the airshow company in Florida circuit court, claiming that the tornado that caused her damages was foreseeable and that the airshow company was negligent in not securing the security guard station booth in a reasonably safe manner. The plaintiff also alleged that the airshow company was negligent in failing to warn her of the potential harms that she could suffer should severe weather occur on the day of the airshow.

In response to the plaintiff’s complaint, the airshow company moved for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff’s claims were barred pursuant to the exclusivity provision of Florida’s workers’ compensation law. According to this law, an injured employee is barred from suing his or her employer in civil court for the work-related injuries he or she sustained, with a few limited exceptions. The security guard opposed the motion for summary judgment on the basis that the waivers that the airshow company filed with the FAA were neither employment contracts nor subcontracts pursuant to Florida Statute Section 440.10(1)(b). The lower court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that the airshow company had a contractual relationship with the plaintiff.

On appeal, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal first reiterated the well-accepted legal principle that worker’s compensation laws require employers to provide their employees with medical benefits for injuries their employees sustain on the job. According to the appellate court, this requirement encompasses statutory employers in addition to direct employers. Before a company is deemed an employer, however, the company must have a contractual relationship with the employee.

Turning to the facts of the case, the court considered the airshow company’s contract, included with its motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that the certificates of waiver were more accurately categorized as regulatory permits instead of contractual agreements containing an offer, acceptance, and mutuality between the parties. Since the airshow company did not prove that a contractual relationship existed between the company and the injured security guard, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s granting of the motion for summary judgment and remanded the negligence lawsuit for adjudication.

If you or someone you know has suffered harm due to another person’s carelessness, the personal injury lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our experienced team of legal professionals has provided competent and aggressive legal counsel to accident victims throughout Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. We offer a free consultation for employment disputes, so you have nothing to lose. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your appointment today.

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