When you have any sort of business relationship, including real estate development, that does not deliver the end product you believe it should, litigation is one possible outcome. If your circumstances dictate that filing suit is the answer, there are several steps you should take care to follow. You should make certain you are suing the right parties and asserting the right claims against them. In a recent real-estate-development-gone-wrong case in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, a project manager at a consulting firm escaped a client’s professional negligence claim because he was not a licensed professional, in Florida or anywhere else.
The project began with a piece of beachfront property on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County. The property owner, Sunset Beach Investments LLC, hired Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. to provide “professional design and permitting consulting services.” Kimley-Horn assembled a team to work on the Sunset project. That team included Mark Brockway, Kevin Schanen, and Michael Keifer, Jr., who was the project manager. Brockway and Schanen were licensed engineers; Keifer was not.
Eventually, the project went over the allotted time. Due to these delays and other problems, Sunset decided to sue Kimley-Horn for the economic losses it suffered from the time overruns. Sunset asserted multiple causes of action in its case, including accusing Keifer, Brockway, and Schanen of professional negligence.
Keifer asked the trial court to issue summary judgment in his favor. In his summary judgment motion, Keifer argued that Sunset could not state a valid claim of professional negligence against him because he was, in fact, not a professional. Keifer had passed the “Fundamentals of Engineering” exam and had earned the designation of “engineering intern” in Florida. However, he had not completed the other required examination (“Professional Engineer”) and had not obtained a license to practice engineering in Florida or anywhere else. The trial court sided with Keifer. Not only was he not a licensed professional engineer, but also Keifer did not hold himself out as one in working on the Sunset project. He did not sign or seal any engineering plans or other documents related to the project. All signing and sealing was done by either Brockway or Schanen.
Sunset appealed but still lost. The appeals court agreed with Sunset that an engineer can face a professional negligence claim in Florida because engineering “is a profession which requires special education, training, skill.” The appeals court did not accept Sunset’s request that it find that Keifer, through his status as an engineering intern, could still be sued for professional negligence. Adopting the version of the law that Sunset proposed would create more confusion rather than clarity. To maintain clarity, the court relied upon the state’s licensing agencies to dictate who is or is not a professional. “At a minimum, in a profession where a license exists, the existence of a license is a valid barometer for determining whether a person is classified as a professional.”
When your business relationship goes south, it may be necessary for you to avail yourself of the court system and pursue litigation. The experienced Florida construction litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon have been advising and representing clients in Florida for many years. We can help you analyze your case, determine if litigation is the right path for you, and, if so, deliver the aggressive representation you need.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
Anti-Assignment Clauses and Commercial Contracts in Florida, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, July 6, 2016
Calculating When the Clock Starts Running on Statutes of Repose in Florida Construction Litigation, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, June 17, 2015
Photo credit: Florida Engineering Society