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Vol. III, No. 3, August 2006
 

Failure To Use Reasonable Care In Selecting Repairman
Costs Landlord 2.7 Million Dollars

Mrs. Landlord had a little garage apartment behind her house which she rented out.  She wanted to fix it up a little, so her daughter hired a handyman to install some kitchen cabinets.  The daughter found this handyman by spying him going down the street in a van with cabinets in it. Certainly as bare bones a way of qualifying your contractor as there is.   Anyway, no contract was entered for the work.  The daughter didn't know if the handyman was in business or licensed.  He was paid for his work in cash.

The cabinets were improperly installed.  Surprise!  The very sad part is that they fell off the wall and paralyzed the tenant.  The tenant sued the landlord claiming she negligently hired the unqualified handyman to do the work.  The jury awarded the tenant $2,728,559.90. Mrs. Landlord defended the claim on the grounds that because the handyman was an independent contractor, she was not responsible for his negligence.  The rationale behind the rule being that since the landlord had no control over the workings of an independent contractor, she could not be responsible for his negligence.  The court said that though the landlord was right about the independent contractor rule, an exception to the rule exists.  The exception is that if the landlord was negligent in the hiring of the independent contractor, then the landlord can be responsible for the independent contractor's negligent work.   The court went on to flesh out varying circumstances to show what level of care a landlord would have to exercise depending on the work being done.  For example, you would have to be much less careful when hiring someone to refinish your floors than you would when hiring someone to repair elevator cables. The court stated that Florida law imposes a non-delegable duty on a landlord who undertakes to repair or improve a dwelling to be occupied by a tenant.  A The employer must choose a contractor who possesses the knowledge, skill, experience, and available equipment which a reasonable man would realize that a contractor must have in order to do the work which he is employed to do without creating unreasonable risk of injury to others@ Citing W. Stock Ctr, Inc. v. Sevit, Inc., 578 P.2d 1045 (1978)


Mrs. Landlord's daughter did not check references of the handyman, did not know if he was in business, or whether he was licensed.  She didn't know if he held himself out as a carpenter or skilled in hanging cabinets.  In short, she had no way of knowing if he was even minimally competent to do the job. What are the lessons here?  Start with licensed contractors who pull permits for all jobs that require them.  Make sure you know more than just the name of the guy you have hired to work on your rentals.  Use referrals from friends or associates.  Find out about the independent contractor=s experience and work history.  Doing a reasonable amount of leg work in advance will save you a world of heartache.   Article based on Surez v. Gonzalez, 820 So.2d 342 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002).

The information provided herein is not to be considered legal or financial advice of the author. Readers should rely on their own legal or financial counsel regarding any matters described above. No warranties, express or implied, are provided. The foregoing may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

The information provided herein is not to be considered legal or financial advice of the author. Readers should rely on their own legal or financial counsel regarding any matters described above. No warranties, express or implied, are provided. The foregoing may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

Jeffrey A. Icardi 2006