Indemnification Agreements in Florida Personal Injury

In a recent case, a hotel appealed after the court entered summary judgment in favor of Lufthansa on its cross-claim for indemnification. Lufthansa is a German airline that brings travelers to Miami among other locations. Lufthansa had drafted and contracted with the hotel in 2003 so that the hotel would provide lodging for the airline’s flight attendants on overnight layovers.

In 2008, flight attendant Juergen Wauschke was staying at the hotel because of the agreement. When he tried to open his 7th floor hotel room window, the window fell out of its frame and struck another hotel guest Jaime Young who was sitting below his bedroom.

Young sued the hotel for vicarious negligence and added Lufthansa and the engineering firm responsible for design and maintenance. The claim against Lufthansa was based on the theory that Lufthansa had vicarious liability for its employee Wauschke’s negligence.
Lufthansa requested indemnification from the hotel based on the written agreement. The indemnification clause of the written agreement stated that the hotel would indemnify and hold Lufthansa harmless from liabilities including injury and death that arose from the hotel’s negligence or willful misconduct.

The trial court found Wauschke’s actions were outside the scope of his employment and granted summary judgment for Lufthansa on the plaintiff’s claim of vicarious liability. Later a jury found the hotel 75% at fault and found Wauschke 25% at fault. The damages were $900,000. The Youngs got nothing from Lufthansa because Lufthansa had prevailed on summary judgment. Lufthansa tried to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs in defending the Youngs’ claim. Both Lufthansa and the hotel filed summary judgment motions on the issue of indemnification.

The court entered a finally summary judgment in favor of Lufthansa awarding it the fees and costs from the suit. The hotel appealed, arguing that the indemnification clause only indemnified Lufthansa for the hotel’s negligent or willful acts, not those of is employees. Lufthansa was not sued for the hotel’s negligence but it’s own employee’s.

The appellate court agree with the Hotel. Lufthansa was sued for vicarious liability of Lufthansa’s employee, not in connection with the hotel’s negligence. Therefore the indemnification clause in the hotel agreement did not apply. The parties didn’t clearly and unequivocally state an intention for the hotel to indemnify Lufthansa for is own negligence or its employee’s negligence.

The court explained that clauses attempting to create indemnification of party against its own misconduct are viewed with disfavor. They are only enforced where their intent is expressed in clear and unequivocal terms.

The language in this case was not clear and unequivocal about creating indemnification for Lufthansa by the hotel for Lufthansa employee negligence. Lufthansa argued that the hotel’s own negligence was the reason it was brought into the lawsuit and therefore, Lufthansa deserved indemnification. However, the court disagreed, explaining that Lufthansa’s participation in the suit had to do with its employees actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Respondeat superior holds an employer liable for the negligent act of its employee while the employee is acting within the scope of employment, engaged in his master’s business. The jury had found the employee 25% at fault and Lufthansa was brought in for the employee’s actions, not the hotel’s.

If you have been hurt due to another person or entity’s negligence, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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