Court Takes on Falling Palm Trees and Gross Negligence – Pyjek v. Valleycrest Landscape Development

In Pyjek v. Valleycrest Landscape Development, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals explains the gross negligence requirement in cases in which an employee injured on the job sues a company other than his or her employer for damages.

Mr. Pyjek was injured while working for a subcontractor fencing company on a residential development project in Fort Myers. He was cutting aluminum fence material when he was struck by a falling palm tree. Pyjek sued Valleycrest, another subcontractor responsible for planting palm trees at the project, for negligence.

A trial court ruled that Valleycrest was immune from suit under Florida’s workers’ compensation law, Section 440.10(1)(e)(2), Fla. Stat. (2007). The statute provides that contractors and subcontractors are immune from suit by an employee of another subcontractor for injuries sustained on a construction project, provided that: a) the employee’s company has workers’ compensation insurance for its own employees; and b) the injury was not caused by the other company’s gross negligence.

On appeal, however, the court said triable issues remained to be resolved as to whether Valleycrest was grossly negligent in its planting of trees. “These were no mere shrubs,” the court observed. “The palm trees were approximately eighteen to thirty feet tall.” Equally large were the factual disputes remaining to be resolved, according to the Court.

In particular, Pyjek argued that the same tree that struck him had fallen earlier the same day after a gust of wind. The tree fell again shortly after the company’s workers replanted it, according to Pyjeck. Knowing that the tree had just been knocked over and that conditions were windy, Pyjek claimed that the company should have dug deeper holes in replanting it and used additional supports in restaking it. Indeed, Pyjek’s expert testified that Valleycrest should have taken additional precaution knowing that the tree had already fallen once.

Valleycrest, on the other hand, argued that it was a different tree that toppled and injured Pyjeck. The company also introduced some evidence showing that Pyjek’s fencing company may have contributed to the accident by loosening the ground in the surrounding area when it was installing fences.

As a result, the court said that the question of whether the company was grossly negligent should be put before a jury. The court also rejected Pyjek’s motion for summary judgment, in which he argued that there were no material issues of fact and that Pyjek was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. “[T]he parties agree on little,” the court explained. “What is clear is that several unresolved issues of material fact preclude summary judgment.”

Gross negligence is one of the most significant legal issues that can arise in a case related to an accident on the job. In addition to suing responsible third parties, an injured worker can also take advantage of various forms of compensation available under Florida’s workers’ compensation system. Depending on the nature of the injury, an injured worker may be entitled to medical and disability benefits, lost wages, reasonable and necessary travel expenditures and attendant care benefits.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on the job, contact the South Florida personal injury lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. We have significant experience representing clients throughout the region, including in Pompano Beach, Hialeah and Coral Springs, in a wide range of personal injury actions. Call us at 800-747-3733 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Suing an Employer for Injury on the Job – Gorham v. Zachry Industrial, Inc.

In Florida Construction Accident Cases, the Jury Should Consider the Fault of Everyone Involved – Kusherman v. Continental Florida Materials, Inc.

Court Reverses Decision in Miami Beach Diving Accident Case – Downs v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers