When an injury occurs on the premises of a business, it can be difficult to determine who is liable for the accident. When there are multiple entities involved, including insurers, indemnity often comes up between the parties. Insurance companies often indemnify their insureds, meaning that they handle the suit on behalf of the insured. Sometimes two companies can agree between themselves that one will indemnify the other in certain situations. The First District Court of Appeal addressed a question of indemnity in a Florida premises liability case, No. 1D16-5675.
A woman was trapped and injured in an office building elevator. The property owner had previously entered into an elevator service contract, hiring a company to be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the elevators in the office building. This included responding to calls from people trapped in an elevator. After the injured person filed suit against the owners of the office building for negligence, the property owner sought indemnification from the elevator maintenance company, per the agreement. After the contractor refused to indemnify, the property owner filed a cross complaint against the contractor for not honoring the contract, asserting the property owners were not at fault.
At trial, the jury found the property owners and the maintenance contractors to be 50 percent at fault in their response to the elevator malfunction. The office building owners moved for a directed verdict, which was granted, absolving them of liability as the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, but still holding them liable for providing safe operation and proper maintenance. The property owner and the elevator company each reached their own settlement agreement with the plaintiffs during the second phase of the bifurcated trial. The agreement between the property owner and the injured person was disclosed to the jury, but the agreement between the elevator maintenance company and the injured person was not. The jury returned a verdict of $13 million, which was in excess of the settlement amount.