Gen. Dynamics Corp.. v. Brottem, 5D09–3719.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtLAWSON, J.
Citation53 So.3d 334,31 IER Cases 1225
PartiesGENERAL DYNAMICS CORPORATION, et al., Appellant,v.Wallace BROTTEM, et al., Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 5D09–3719.,5D09–3719.
Decision Date30 December 2010

53 So.3d 334
31 IER Cases 1225

Wallace BROTTEM, et al., Appellee.

No. 5D09–3719.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District.

Dec. 30, 2010.

[53 So.3d 335]

Mark D. Tinker, Charles W. Hall, and David C. Schwartz, of Banker Lopez Gassler, P.A., St. Petersburg, for Appellants.Paul M. Smith, Admitted Pro Hac Vice, of Jenner & Block LLP, Washington, DC, and Chris C. Gair, of Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, IL, for Appellants.Thomas A. Koval and Ricardo H. Piedra, Sarasota, for Florida Insurance Council, Amicus Curiae, and Tamela I. Perdue, Tallahassee, for Associated Industries of Florida, Amicus Curiae.Elizabeth K. Russo and Nicholas A. Shannin, of Russo Appellate Firm, P.A., Miami, Overchuch, DeMarco, Byron & Overchuck, P.A., Winter Park, and Page, Eichenblatt, Bernbaum & Bennett, P.A., Orlando, for Appellees.LAWSON, J.

General Dynamics Corporation and General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., (collectively “General Dynamics”), defendants below, timely appeal a non-final order denying their motion for final summary judgment asserting immunity from suit under Florida's Workers' Compensation Act, (the “Act”).1 The forty-one plaintiffs were all former General Dynamics employees (or their legal representatives), who sued under Florida's Water Quality Assurance Act, (the “WQAA”),2 for personal injuries or wrongful deaths allegedly caused by occupational exposure to hazardous substances

[53 So.3d 336]

at General Dynamics' telephone equipment manufacturing facility in Lake Mary, Florida. We hold that Defendants are entitled to workers' compensation immunity and reverse.

Plaintiffs' Claims

Plaintiffs allege that General Dynamics improperly stored, spilled, discharged, disposed of and dumped toxic chemicals in and around its Lake Mary facility, contaminating the facility (along with the land, water and groundwater at and around the facility) to levels hazardous to human health and safety. Plaintiffs claim damages for the physical illnesses (and, in some cases, death), caused by their exposure to this toxic pollution while working at the facility.

Florida's Water Quality Assurance Act

The WQAA, specifically section 376.313, provides a strict liability cause of action against owners of real property for damages caused by surface or ground water contaminants on the property. A person bringing a WQAA suit does not need to “plead or prove negligence in any form or manner ... [but] need only plead and prove the fact of the prohibited discharge or other pollutive condition and that it has occurred.” § 376.313(3), Fla. Stat. (2008). This subsection then provides that “[t]he only defenses to such cause of action shall be those provided in s. 376.308.” Section 376.308 lists four basic defenses: “(a) An act of war; (b) An act of government ...; (c) An act of God ...; or (d) An act or omission of a third party, other than an employee or agent of the defendant....” § 376.308(2), Fla. Stat. (2008).

Florida's Workers' Compensation Act

Florida Workers' Compensation Act sets forth a comprehensive scheme providing disability and medical benefits to workers injured during the course of their employment. See generally §§ 440.01–440.60, Fla. Stat. (2008); Bakerman v. Bombay Co., Inc., 961 So.2d 259 (Fla.2007). Employees who fall within the Act's scope are generally compensated irrespective of the employer's fault in causing their injuries. See §§ 440.09, 440.10(2), Fla. Stat. (2008). In exchange, employers complying with the Act are given immunity from civil suit by the employee, except in cases where “[t]he employer deliberately intended to injure the employee” or “[t]he employer engaged in conduct that the employer knew ... was virtually certain to result in injury or death to the employee ....” § 440.11(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2008). “The philosophy of workmen's compensation is that when employer and employee accept the terms of the [A]ct their relations become contractual and other statutes authorizing recovery ... become ineffective.” Howze v. Lykes Bros., 64 So.2d 277, 277–78 (Fla.1953) (citations omitted). In this regard, the Act provides that workers' compensation “shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability” for “anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from [an] employer ... [for an employee's] injury or death.” § 440.11(1), Fla. Stat. (2008).

It is undisputed that during all relevant timeframes, approximately 1969 through 1982, General Dynamics maintained workers' compensation insurance coverage for its employees, including Plaintiffs. Further, Plaintiffs have not attempted to plead their cause of action as an intentional tort, so as to fall within the Act's exception for intentional employer misconduct. And, Florida courts have consistently held that the Act applies to injuries caused by workplace exposure to hazardous substances. See, e.g., Czepial v. Krohne Roofing Co., 93 So.2d 84 (Fla.1957); Wilks v. Boston Whaler, Inc., 691 So.2d 629 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997); Eastern Airlines, Inc. v. Crittenden, 596 So.2d 112 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992); Wiley v. Southeast Erectors, Inc., 573 So.2d 946 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991); Brevard Co. Mental Health Ctr. v. Kelly, 420 So.2d 911 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982).

[53 So.3d 337]

Apparent Conflict Between the Act and the WQAA

Sections 373.313(3) and 440.11(1), Florida Statutes, appear to conflict. Section 440.11(1) makes workers' compensation the “exclusive” remedy for an employee's injuries, “in place of all other liability” against his or her employer. Thus, section 440.11(1) would afford General Dynamics workers' compensation immunity from Plaintiffs' WQAA claims. However, section 376.313(3) limits defenses for a WQAA claim to “only” those listed in section 376.308. And, that section does not list workers' compensation immunity as a recognized WQAA defense.


Courts faced with conflicting statutes must attempt to “adopt an interpretation that...

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3 cases
  • Browning v. Poirier
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • November 8, 2013
    ...(“A court's purpose in construing a statute is to give effect to legislative intent ....”); see also Gen. Dynamics Corp. v. Brottem, 53 So.3d 334, 337 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010) (“ ‘A text should not be construed strictly, and it should not be construed leniently; it should be construed reasonably......
  • Pinares v. United Techs. Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • April 10, 2023
    ...... (emphasis in original). Other courts agree. See e.g.,. General Dynamics Corp. v. Brottem, 53 So.3d 334, 338. (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010) (the “more reasonable. ......
  • Cal. Fin., LLC v. Perdido Land Dev. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • August 9, 2017
    ...court has held that § 373.313 was modeled after CERCLA and should be given the same interpretation as CERCLA. Gen. Dynamics v. Brottem , 53 So.3d 334, 337 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010). Since several federal courts have held that CERCLA claims are not barred by "as is" clauses, then it stands to reas......

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