The Week in Torts – Cases from the Week of December 4, 2020
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FLORIDA LAW WEEKLY
VOLUME 45, NUMBER 48
CASES FROM THE WEEK DECEMBER 4, 2020
COURT ADOPTS AMENDMENTS TO APPELLATE RULES.
In re: Amendments to Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.120 & 9.210, 45 Fla. L Weekly S319 (Fla. December 3, 2020):
The court enacted a new Rule, 9.045, (Form of Documents) which sets out formatting requirements for all documents filed with the appellate court, in addition to those set out in Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.520. The Court now requires Arial or Bookman Old Style font, but because the new fonts take up more space on the page, the Court replaced page limits with word counts, subject to a certificate of compliance certifying conformity with these requirements.
Additionally, the Court shortened the time the District Courts of Appeal have to transmit records for discretionary proceedings (from sixty days to twenty-five days). The Court also now allows a litigant to file a brief in those proceedings thirty-five days after the court accepts or postpones a decision on jurisdiction (rather than twenty).
The Supreme Court rejected the Committee’s proposed Amendment to Rule 9.225 and Rule 9.900(j) which would have permitted the inclusion of argument in a notice of supplemental authority, along with a response. The Court found that such amendments would have an adverse impact on court resources and appellate proceedings. The new rules go into effect on January 1, 2021 at 12:03 a.m.
IN FIRST PARTY COVERAGE DISPUTES UNDER HOMEOWNERS’ POLICIES, INSUREDS GENERALLY MAY NOT OBTAIN THEIR INSURERS’ CLAIMS HANDLING POLICIES, PRACTICES, PROCEDURES, MANUALS, OR GUIDELINES.
State Farm v. Hill, 45 Fla. L Weekly D2634 (Fla. 3rd DCA November 25, 2020):
The plaintiff insureds had not pled a bad faith claim, but still requested the discovery with respect to §627.70131(5)(a) to evaluate the insurer’s compliance with it. Under the facts and circumstances of the case, the Third District found that the trial court’s order requiring discovery of State Farm’s protocol, policy and guidelines for complying with that section still constituted a departure from the essential requirements of law causing irreparable harm and granted the petition.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT PROPERLY ENTERED IN FAVOR OF HOMEOWNERS ON INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR’S CLAIM FOR INJURIES SUFFERED AFTER THE CONTRACTOR WAS ELECTROCUTED WHILE TRIMMING TREES ON THEIR PROPERTY.
Salinas v. Weden, 45 Fla. L Weekly D2640 (Fla. 4th DCA November 25, 2020):
Property owners are generally not liable for injuries sustained by independent contractors or their employees while performing their work on the homeowner’s property. There is an exception when a person having work done on his or her premises has actual or constructive knowledge of latent or potential dangers, and thereby owes a duty to warn against such dangers to those who don’t have such knowledge.
However, an owner is entitled to assume that an invitee will perceive that which would be obvious to him or her upon the ordinary use of his or her senses, and the property owner is not required to give the invitee notice, or to warn of an obvious danger.
Here, the independent contractor had admitted that he saw the electrical lines above the palm trees. While the contractor testified he did not know that the lines were high voltage lines, the court found that was still not a latent danger because all electrical lines are dangerous, even if some are more than others. The existence of unobstructed power lines clearly visible above an open field is not a latent hazard.
ONCE A DEFENDANT FILES “ANY PAPER” THE RULE REQUIRES SERVICE OF NOTICE OF APPLICATION FOR DEFAULT AND REQUIRES THE COURT AND NOT THE CLERK TO ENTER A DEFAULT.
Lannquist v. Munyon, 45 Fla. L Weekly D2641 (Fla. 4th DCA November 25, 2020).
INTERPLEADER IS A REMEDY THAT REQUIRES THE RETENTION OF FUNDS BEFORE DISTRIBUTION.
Broward Outpatient Medical Center v. Fenstersheib Law Group, 45 Fla. L Weekly D2642 (Fla. 4th DCA November 25, 2020):
Broward Outpatient Medical Center appealed a trial court’s order distributing interpleaded funds to a law firm, before determining the amount owed to each claimant and the priority of each claim to the funds.
The plaintiff in a personal injury case had sought treatment from the claimant medical providers, which the plaintiff received based on letters of protection (LOPs) issued by plaintiff and her lawyers to the providers.
After the case settled, the law firm deducted its contingency fee from the proceeds, determining that there were then insufficient funds to pay the outstanding bills. This led the plaintiff’s law firm to file a petition for interpleader, identifying both the medical providers and the plaintiff as claimants.
The Fourth District admonished that the very purpose of a suit in interpleader is to prevent the prosecution of other suits against the complainant, and to require those claiming the funds in the hands of the interpleader to litigate their differences among them. Thus, once the trial court determines that an interpleader action has been properly brought, the court should dispose of the entire controversy in a way that is binding on all the parties, without requiring further litigation of any nature.
By allowing the law firm to distribute its full contingency fee to itself while conflicting claims to the funds remained pending, the trial court disregarded the very purpose of the interpleader action. This ruling required the appellate court to reverse and remand to enable the trial court to assess everyone’s claims.