Court Says Fatal Lawn Mower Accident on Highway May Have Involved ‘Inherently Dangerous Activity’ – Smyth v. Infrastructure Corp. of America

Accidents can happen at any time and in any place. Yet, some activities are so “inherently dangerous” that they’re more likely to result in an injury. In Smyth v. Infrastructure Corp. of America, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains the law as it applies to these activities.

Edward Smyth died in a Florida car accident on I-75 outside of Riverview. Smyth was driving in the left lane at around 9:00 p.m. when a car in front of him slammed the brakes. Smyth’s car veered into the right lane, where it collided with a tank truck carrying fuel. His car became trapped under the truck as the tank caught fire and Smyth was killed in the blaze.

According to a state trooper who was driving nearby, the lead car hit the brakes because a large lawn mower was traveling at about 25 miles an hour in front of it. Meanwhile, the Court explained that further investigation showed that the car behind Smyth’s slammed into the back left side of Smyth’s car, propelling it into the other lane where the car collided with the truck.

Smyth’s wife, Kay, sued Infrastructure Corporation of America and the Florida Department of Transportation for wrongful death. She claimed that the lawn mower was owned by Titan Lawn Service, a company acting as an unauthorized subcontractor for ICA, which had been hired by DOT to cut the grass adjacent to the road. Kay also sued the driver of the car behind her husband’s, a claim that was later settled.

A trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, apparently finding that any duty that ICA and DOT owed to Smyth had been delegated to Titan, the responsible party. The Second District disagreed, however, finding that the evidence in the record was not sufficient to support this decision.

As the court explained, a landowner or primary contractor cannot delegate its duties with respect to “inherently dangerous activities” it authorizes on the property. In American Home v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, the Florida Supreme Court held that “[a]n activity is inherently dangerous if…in the ordinary course of events its performance would probably, and not merely possibly, cause injury if proper precautions were not taken.”

Here, the court found that more evidence was necessary to determine whether the nighttime mowing was such an activity. “Although this record at least suggests that operating these mowers on the paved portion of the interstate may create an unusually high risk of accidents involving major losses, we are unconvinced that the record was sufficient to support a summary judgment on this issue for either side.” As a result, the Court reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

The “inherently dangerous activity” issue is just one of a wide variety of complex matters that must be considered by a person seeking to sue for personal injury. At Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida personal injury attorneys represent clients throughout the region, including in Boca Raton, Hollywood and Pompano Beach. We are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Dismisses Car Accident Suit Against Wrong Defendant – Williams v. Benway

Court Upholds $2 Million Verdict in Florida Rear-End Accident Case – Health First, Inc. v. Cataldo

The Presumption of Negligence in a Multi-Car Rear End Accident – Shirey v. State Farm