With its beautiful beaches and welcoming climate, Florida attracts a wide array of visitors each year. It also attracts scores of companies from elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world looking to do business in the Sunshine State. In Kitroser v. Hurt, the Florida Supreme Court explains the rules for suing an employee of such a company whose negligence causes injury.
According to the court, Rhina Castro Lara was killed when Dale Dickey, an Airgas Carbonic, Inc. (Airgas) employee, “negligently operated a commercial truck which struck her automobile on Highway 27 south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County.” Plaintiffs, as personal representative of the estate of the deceased and other individuals, filed an action against Airgas, Dickey and five other Airgas employees. Airgas is a foreign company. The employee defendants trained and/or supervised Dickey in Florida. Plaintiffs asserted that the employees were personally responsible for the accident because they knew or should have known that he was a careless driver.
The trial court ruled that it had personal jurisdiction over the employee defendants under Florida’s long-arm statute – section 48.193, Florida Statutes (2011) – which provides that any person who personally or through an agent operates, conducts or carries on a business in Florida or commits a tortious act within the state is subject to state court jurisdiction. The Fourth District Court of Appeal, however, reversed the decision. In so doing, it certified the following question for the state supreme court:
Where an individual, non-resident defendant commits negligent acts in Florida on behalf of his corporate employer, does the corporate shield doctrine operate as a bar to personal jurisdiction in Florida over the individual defendant?
In answering this question, the supreme court explained that Florida’s corporate shield doctrine “provides that acts performed by a person exclusively in his corporate capacity not in Florida but in a foreign state may not form the predicate for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the employee in the forum state.” The idea behind the doctrine, according to the court, is that “it may be unfair to force an individual to defend an action filed against him personally in a forum with which his only relevant contacts are acts performed totally outside the forum state and not for his own benefit but for the exclusive benefit of his employer.”
Pursuant to this doctrine, the court ruled in Doe v. Thompson that a corporate executive who lived and worked in another state could not be haled into a Florida court to defend a negligence claim by a clerk who was sexually assaulted at a local convenience store owned by the executive’s company. In the present case, however, Plaintiffs allege that the employee defendants engaged in negligent behavior – the training and/or supervision of Dickey – while physically present in Florida. As a result, the court held that the employees were not protected by the corporate shield doctrine and were subject to the trial court’s jurisdiction under the long-arm statute.
The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar and Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton. If you have suffered injury because of another person’s negligence, call us toll-free at (800) 747-FREE (3733) or fill out and submit our online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.
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