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The Daily Business Review reports that Florida's Third District Court of Appeals in a ruling dated December 19th affirmed a summary final judgment in favor of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
The recreational boat industry trade group, a participant in the 2008 Miami International Boat Show, parked several tractor trailers on a lot owned by the city of Miami Beach under a temporary license and use agreement signed with the city's housing authority. On February 7, 2008, David Collins entered the lot, climbed under a parked trailer and fell asleep. A truck driver for the association, who didn't know anyone was under the trailer, hitched it to his truck and pulled out, running over and fatally injuring Collins.
Collins' mother, Constance Ryan, sued the trade group and the truck driver, alleging he was negligent in failing to "check around and under the tractor-trailer so as to avoid striking a pedestrian in the vicinity." However, a toxicology report determined Collins' blood alcohol level was 0.21, nearly three times the legal limit for drivers. That finding triggered a winning defense.
Under Florida law, anyone "owning or controlling an interest in real property" cannot be held liable for injuries to a trespasser who was legally under the influence of alcohol. The question was: Did the association have an owning or controlling interest? Ryan contended it did not because the agreement with the city was nominally a license. The association asserted it did because the intent of the agreement made it effectively a lease.
"Our argument was that although it was labeled a license, the essence of the document and what they [the housing authority] purported to do was to grant a short-term lease to National Marine," said Rafael De la Grana, who worked on the appellate brief with James K. Clark of Clark, Robb, Mason, Coulombe & Buschman in Miami. "It therefore was entitled to avail itself of the immunity given by the statute."
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David C. Miller agreed and ruled for National Marine. On appeal, Emas, who wrote the opinion, Salter and Senior Judge Alan Schwartz affirmed. In a special concurrence, Schwartz wrote: "On the ground that as a matter of law, no one is liable for the accident but the decedent, I join in affirmance."