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Understanding the Slavin Doctrine


Construction defects are a major problem. People can be seriously hurt if a contractor makes a mistake while building a house or performing maintenance work. Contractors, like other professionals, have a duty not to act negligently. Contractors who fail to use a reasonable amount of care might be liable if their negligence causes injuries.

But there is a legal doctrine that lets contractors off the hook for certain personal injuries. In 1958, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that protects state contractors, subcontractors and design professionals against future injuries caused by construction defects. The case is called Slavin v. Kay, and from it came the Slavin doctrine.

What Is the Slavin Doctrine?

Generally, contractors are liable if defects in their work cause injuries. But under the Slavin doctrine, they can’t be held liable if the property owner accepts the contractor’s work with patent defects. A patent defect is a construction problem that can be discovered in an ordinary inspection done by the purchaser. (A latent defect can’t be discovered by an ordinary inspection.)

In other words, if the property owner knows about the defect but doesn’t ask the contractor to fix it, then the contractor can’t later be sued for injuries caused by the defect.

A recent Florida appeals court case illustrates the Slavin doctrine in action. The lawsuit involved the 2008 death of a motorcyclist who collided with another vehicle in the city of Hialeah. The motorcyclist’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, the designer of the city’s road improvement project, a paving company, and a nursery, among others.

The lawsuit claimed that the designer, paving company, and nursery were negligent and responsible for the accident because they planted shrubs that obstructed the view of passing motorists. The trial court ruled in favor of these defendants, holding that the obstruction was a patent defect when the city accepted the contractors’ work. The appeals court agreed that the city should have been aware of the obstruction and that the contractors were protected by the Slavin doctrine.

How Does the Slavin Doctrine Affect Me?

In some cases, the Slavin doctrine makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to recover compensation for their injuries. It limits the number of people that can be held responsible for certain accidents, and it means you need to be careful before deciding who to sue for damages. Suing the “wrong” people is a waste of both your time and money. This is one of the many reasons you need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side. 

Contact Us Today

Contact a Fort Myers personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you are injured because of a construction defect. We will craft an effective litigation strategy and help recover compensation for your injuries, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Jacksonville, Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.



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