Pinson v. 45 Development – Establishing Duty of Care in Injury Cases


Key to the success any injury case is establishing the foundation that the defendant owed the injured party some duty of care, that the duty was breached and the result was a compensable injury.

It’s not enough to prove that an accident occurred and that a person was injured as a result. One must show why the defendant holds liability for the incident.

Our Fort Myers accident lawyers recognize the approach for accomplishing this will vary depending on the individual facts of the case. In premises liability cases, what is central is the status of the injured party on the property. For example, a business invitee is owed a greater duty than a trespasser.

The recent case of Pinson v. 45 Development, et al., heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, was a complex one for several reasons. First, it was an industrial work accident. Typically, such a claim would fall under workers’ compensation laws, but the plaintiff in this case was an independent contractor, and therefore not eligible to collect those benefits from this particular defendant.

This meant the plaintiff proceeded with his claim of premises liability. However, the appellate court ultimately found that his claim lacked merit because he failed to establish that his case met the exception for the “open and obvious” rule of premises hazards, and that the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of hazards that were an inherent part of the work the plaintiff typically carried out.

The plaintiff in this case worked as a sign electrician. He was installing a sign above a store owner’s business when he fell through the canopy and was seriously hurt.

He later sued the development company, the shopping center owner and a number of others. This appeal dealt only with the case pending against the development firm. This was the company that owned and operated the shopping center.

The plaintiff worked for a sign company that was hired to install a number of signs in the plaza. He was a master electrician, and had worked on signs approximately 10 years prior to the incident.

The plaintiff gained access to the canopy by lowering himself from the store’s roof onto a frame step ladder over the canopy. He said he knew the canopy, made of soft vinyl, would not support the weight of a person, which is why he put the ladder on metal joists that formed the framework of the equipment. However, the ladder was not properly secured and it shifted. The plaintiff stepped back to catch his balance, and stepped onto the vinyl canopy, crashed through it and onto the ground, injuring his right foot. This injury later resulted in amputation of his leg from the knee down.

After he filed his lawsuit, he filed five motions to amend. The court denied his fifth request, which came three months after the filing deadline. He indicated certain facts were newly-discovered, but the court determined the amendment contained clarifications of federal work safety law that were available at the time he filed his first complaint.

With regard to a danger being open and obvious, this is a common defense raised. It hold that a reasonable person would have been able to see the danger and take action to avoid it. The state supreme court in this matter has held the exception to the rule is when a person is forced to encounter a danger in order to perform his or her job.

The plaintiff contended the open and obvious exception was applicable because the development firm should have known the canopy would have been a danger to him in his work.

However, the defense countered, and the appellate court agreed, the plaintiff was not “forced” because there were other avenues he could have pursued.  He could have called for aid, he could have created another access panel on his own or he could have sought additional equipment from his employer.

The plaintiff alternatively argued that the development firm as an employer owed him as an independent contractor a duty to use ordinary care or warn of latent dangers. However, the court sided with the defense in ruling the firm had no duty to warn of hazards that were an integral part of the work this man was hired to perform.

None of this is to say this worker won’t receive any compensation – just not from this defendant. He might still pursue workers’ compensation benefits from his employer. He might also be successful in pursuing the claim against the individual store owner or other defendants.

If you have been injured in an accident in Fort Myers, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Pinson v. 45 Development, et al., July 11, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Carbajal v. Precision Builders – Scaffolding Fall Results in Protracted Work Injury Claim, July 14, 2014, Fort Myers Work Injury Lawyer Blog