Federal Appeals Court Defers Florida Tort Law Decision to Florida Supreme Court

In a recent appeals case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit deferred an opinion for an appeal involving an application of Florida tort law to a dispute resulting from the collapse of a crane boom. The case was between the Plaintiff-Appellee, NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, Inc. (NBIS), and the Defendants-Appellants, Liebherr-America, Inc. (Liebherr-America). NBIS, the third-party administrator and managing general agent of the insurer of the crane’s owner, recovered over $1.7 million, in a negligence suit against Liebherr-America. At the bench trial, the magistrate judge rejected Liebherr-America’s argument that Florida’s economic loss rule shielded it from liability. Liebherr-America appealed.

Facts of the Case

In 2016, Sims Crane & Equipment Company purchased a crane where Liebherr-America was under contract to provide factory-provided technicians on-site to train Sims personnel in safety procedures. Two Sims crane operators picked up the crane and a Liebherr-American trainer instructed them on the proper procedure for transportation. Training continued from January 30, 2017, to February 4, 2017. Liebherr-America normally provides around 80 hours of training to new customers, the Sims operators only received 40 hours of training. The Sims received training involving swapping out different crane booms but skipped training on multiple other issues, including receiving no training on the proper placement of specific pins for the crane.

On February 16, 2018, the crane was being used for a construction project. The incorrect pin was manipulated and was subsequently replaced in the incorrect position. A few days later, when the crane was being used, the boom would not fully extend despite the computer reading no errors. A crane technician was dispatched to the job site and a senior crane operator advised the operator that the crane would need to be placed in manual mode to override the computer lock. When the crane was put in manual mode and the boom was extended, it collapsed on itself, causing both a fatality and damage to the crane. Prior to this collapse, a similar collapse had occurred in Japan, leading Liebherr-Germany to publish safety guidance on the issue as well as implementing multiple safety precautions around pin usage.

At trial, the primary dispute revolved around whether, as Liebherr-America argues, both theories of negligence are in essence failure to warn claims, shielding them under Florida’s economic loss rule, or if the issue is in fact a negligent services matter as argued by NBIS. The Eleventh Circuit appellate decision found Florida law unclear as to the economic loss rule’s applicability in this circumstance, choosing to defer to the Florida Supreme Court on the issue. As a result, the Eleventh Circuit transmitted the entire matter to the Florida Supreme Court, failing to rule directly on the questions presented.

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