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Florida Third DCA rules that defendant company was not sufficiently in control of nuclear power plant to trigger a duty to protect plaintiff from asbestos exposure

On December 27, 2017, in Bechtel v. Batchelor, No. 3D16-2624, the Florida Third DCA reversed a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in a workplace asbestos exposure case in which the plaintiff had sued the defendant under a premises liability theory for his mesothelioma. The defendant, a maintenance contractor for the plaintiff’s employer, Florida Power and Light (FPL), at FPL’s Turkey Lake nuclear power facility, disputed that it was sufficiently in control of the facility to trigger a duty to plaintiff to monitor asbestos levels and take other actions to protect the plaintiff from a dangerous asbestos condition on the premises. The Third DCA cited both Welch v. Complete Care Corp., 818 So. 2d 645, 649 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) and Haynes v. Lloyd, 533 So. 2d 944, 946 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) for the principle that premises liability is not predicated on ownership of the property; instead, the duty to protect others from injury resulting from a dangerous condition on the premises rests on the right to control access to the property. The Court additionally quoted Brown v. Suncharm Ranch, Inc., 748 So. 2d 1077, 1078 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999): “[t]he duty to protect others from injury resulting from a dangerous condition on a premises rests on the party who has the right to control access by third parties to the premises, be it the owner, an agent, or a lessee of the property.” Based on these principles, the Third DCA concluded that the defendant did not have control over the property because no witness testified or admitted document stated that FPL ever surrendered control of any part of the plant to the defendant.