Florida Appeals Court Affirms Lower Court Decision in Personal Injury Summary Judgement Case

In a recent case, the Third District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a personal injury claim between the Appellants, the plaintiff, and the Appellee, Lawson Industries, Inc., (Lawson). The plaintiff sued Lawson after he sustained injuries when he attempted to unload a shipment of heavy-impact windows and doors that were delivered by Lawson’s employee and placed on the plaintiff’s employer’s forklift. The impact doors in the shipment toppled off the forklift and onto the plaintiff when he removed the windows that were leaning against the impact doors. The court granted Lawson’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

Lawson is a Miami-Dade impact window and door manufacturer. PMYY Leon Corporation, Inc. (PMYY) is the plaintiff’s employer and a local retailer that ordered impact windows and doors from Lawson. The impact doors and windows had been offloaded onto PMYY’s forklift the day prior to the incident by a Lawson’s delivery truck driver. On the day of the delivery, PMYY’s principal assisted the Lawson’s delivery truck driver in moving the shipment from the truck onto the PMYY forklift. During deposition, the delivery truck driver did not recall strapping the doors onto the forklift rack because that was not his job. The delivery truck driver also did not recall whether the forklift operator strapped the load down, but testified that to do so was PMYY’s usual practice. The delivery truck driver left the PMYY premises after the delivery. PMYY’s principal stated during his deposition that he strapped the shipment to the pallet rack on the forklift. After that he stated that he drove the forklift into the PMYY warehouse for overnight storage.

The plaintiff testified at his deposition that on the morning of the incident, he entered the warehouse and began to unload the forklift shipment himself, and at the time observed that there were no straps in place. The plaintiff later testified that he failed to realize that safety strapping was missing until the doors fell on him. During his deposition, the plaintiff stated that once he unloaded the lighter windows from the front of the heavier impact doors, the doors fell forward, causing him injuries. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed suit against Lawson, asserting one count of negligence, asserting that Lawson improperly loaded the shipment onto PMYY’s forklift, which ultimately led to his injuries.

At trial, the evidence before the court on the motion for summary judgment indicated that PMYY’s owner, stated several times that he strapped the shipment to the forklift once the Lawson employee had offloaded the shipment. The trial court granted Lawson’s motion for summary judgment, determining as a matter of law that Lawson had no duty to the plaintiff, and that PMYY was responsible for strapping the shipment to the forklift once the shipment had been offloaded. The plaintiff appealed shortly thereafter.

The appeals court concluded that the absence of a material issue of fact was established by the record. The opinion indicated that there was no evidence in the record that Lawson’s driver strapped or failed to strap the shipment to PMYY’s forklift once the shipment was transferred. Having made many such deliveries to PMYY, he testified that it was not his responsibility to do so. On the other hand, PMYY’s principal testified that he strapped the shipments to his forklift. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that the record made clear that once the shipment was placed onto PMYY’s forklift, that PMYY became the responsible party. At that point, the shipment, and the duty to implement safety precautions, was in PMYY’s sole control. As a result, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s findings, upholding the granting of Lawson’s motion for summary judgment.

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