In 1958 the Slavin doctrine was first articulated by the Florida Supreme Court. Slavin v. Kay, 108 So.2d 462 (Fla. 1958). That doctrine is that “a contractor is relieved of liability caused by a patent defect after control of the completed premises has been turned over to the owner.” Easterday v. Masiello, 518 So. 2d 260 (Fla. 1988)(Court expanded the Slavin doctrine to apply to architects and engineers). Two recent cases in Florida relied upon the Slavin doctrine precluding liability against design professionals.
In Transp. Eng’g, Inc. v. Cruz the trial court, relying upon the Slavin doctrine granted summary judgment in favor of the contractor and denied the same relief to the design professional. The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the contractor and vacated the trial court’s order denying summary judgment to the engineer, finding, “it was undisputed . . . that DOT accepted the project with bare (uncushioned) guardrail ends within the clear zone, and that this was an open and obvious condition. Therefore, even if TEI violated its standard of care . . . summary judgment should have been granted in TEI’s favor based upon Slavin and Easterday. Transp.” Eng’g, Inc. (TEI) v. Cruz, 2014 Fla. App. LEXIS 18273, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D 2333 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. Nov. 7, 2014)(case involved changes to state’s standard design for guardrails by Florida DOT which were followed by design engineer; thereafter, a third party was killed hitting the unprotected guardrail).
In McIntosh v. Progressive Design & Eng’g the district court, relying upon the Slavin doctrine affirmed the lower court where the jury determined that the design professional was negligent in its design of a traffic signal (the legal cause of a traffic fatality); however, “the negligent design was accepted and discoverable by FDOT with the exercise of reasonable care.” McIntosh v. Progressive Design & Eng’g (In re Estate of McIntosh), 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 163, *7, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D 160 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan. 7, 2015). The result in McIntosh is factually distinguishable from other cases that have relied upon the Slavin doctrine. In McIntosh, the ultimate owner of the traffic signal was not FDOT, but rather was Broward County, Florida; which entity would not give its final acceptance of the project work until the final phase of the project was completed (the burn-in period). The fatal accident occurred prior to control of the traffic signal being turned over to the county. The district court rejected this argument; instead finding, that “responsibility for a patent defect rests with the entity in control [when the design was approved and accepted] and with the ability to correct it.” Id. at *12. In McIntosh, the entity in control was the FDOT. Only time will tell whether other district courts will follow the approach taken in McIntosh.