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Subcontractor Versus Materialman: There Is A Difference

Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Subcontractor Case

          MSZL&M recently represented a well-respected general contractor that had entered into a contract for various renovations on a high-end condominium in Miami, Florida. After securing the renovation contract with the owner, our client then subcontracted with a carpentry company to manufacture wooden doors and cabinets, and install them in the condominium. Although our client and the carpentry company initially entered into a written contractor/subcontractor agreement, the contract was verbally modified between the parties, and the modification provided that the carpentry company would only be responsible for manufacturing the doors and cabinets; the installation would be performed by two of the carpentry company’s employees, but they would be hired through an employee leasing company so that they had workers’ compensation coverage while performing the installation on the jobsite.

          During the course of manufacturing the doors and cabinets, one of the carpentry company’s employees (the plaintiff) severed his finger while using a table saw in the carpentry company’s mill shop. The carpentry company did not have workers’ compensation, so the employee filed suit against his employer and our client, alleging that he was our client’s statutory employee because his employer was a subcontractor that failed to secure workers’ compensation. The plaintiff further alleged that the table saw was unreasonably dangerous because it lacked the required safety mechanisms. 

          Our firm was able to successfully argue that when the contract was verbally modified between our client and the carpentry company, the legal relationship between our client and the carpentry company changed from one of contractor/subcontractor to that of contractor/materialman or vendor/vendee. Under Florida law, contractors do not have to ensure that materialmen secure workers’ compensation coverage for their employees, and therefore, the plaintiff would not be considered our client’s statutory employee. We further argued that because the injury occurred off the jobsite and because our client had no control or supervision over the carpentry company, our client owed the plaintiff no legally-recognizable duty of care at the time of his injury. The court agreed and granted our Motion for Summary Judgment.

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