Contractors who perform excavation work in Florida must be aware of the requirements set forth in Chapter 556 of the Florida Statutes, known as the Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act (“Act”). Failing to follow the procedures set forth in the Act can result in civil and criminal penalties, including monetary damages. This post focuses on some of the requirements of the Act related to excavation work that is not beneath the waters of the State of Florida.

The Act has created a “uniform statewide procedure for determining the existence of underground utilities prior to excavation” (Martin v. Florida Power and Light Company, 955 So.2d 555 [Fla. 4th DCA 2005]). This system eliminates the need for excavators or excavating contractors (collectively “contractors”) to contact each and every underground utility provider (known as member operators under the Act) to determine whether such utilities are present in the area to be excavated. The notification system provides member operators an opportunity to identify and locate underground facilities to avoid potential accidents.

The notification process begins when the contractor notifies Sunshine 811 by calling 811 or using a single address ticket or an internet ticket. The contractor’s request must be submitted no less than two full business days before the excavation work begins. The contractor is required to provide certain information through this system, including the name of the person providing notification, the location where the excavation or demolition will be performed, the commencement date of the work, the type of work to be done, and anticipated duration of the work. The notification system then generates what is called a “locate ticket” that is routed to member operators.

The information referenced above from the contractor is valid for 30 calendar days after the date the information is provided to the Sunshine 811 system. If the proposed excavation or demolition is in proximity to or in conflict with an underground facility, the member operator is required to identify the horizontal route by marking to within 24 inches from the outer edge of either side of the underground facility by use of stakes, paint, flags or other suitable means within two full business days after the time the notification is received. No excavation may be performed in the area described in the notice until the member operators of all underground facilities in that area have been marked and located or removed. The contractor is then required to verify the member operators’ responses before starting the excavation work.

If the contractor does not provide the appropriate notice or fails to comply with Section 556.105 of the Florida Statutes of the Act and performs an excavation or demolition that damages an underground facility, there is a rebuttable presumption that the contractor was negligent. If found liable, the contractor is accountable for the total sum of the losses to all member operators involved, with any damage for loss of revenue and loss of use not exceeding $500,000. In addition, if the contractor fails to discharge a duty imposed by Chapter 556, the excavator is liable for the total sum of the losses to all parties involved, which may not exceed $500,000.

Member operators also face damages claims if they fail to follow the requirements of the Act.  For example, if, after receiving proper notice, a member operator fails to discharge a duty imposed by the Act, and the underground utilities of a member operator are damaged by a contractor who has complied with the Act, the member operator is liable to such person for the total cost of any loss or injury, not to exceed $500,000.

Whether you are a contractor or member operator, you must follow the requirements of the Act.  In addition, communication between the member operator and the contractor is key when excavation work around underground utilities is being performed.

In order to assist contractors and member operators, Sunshine 811 has a compiled a Damage Prevention Guide that offers useful tips and guidelines to avoid accidents associated with excavation of underground utilities.