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Security guard can sue air show despite workers comp settlement

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A security guard who was injured during an air show can pursue a lawsuit against the company that operated the event despite previously receiving workers compensation benefits from her employer, a Florida appellate court has ruled.

Alice Slora worked for U.S. Security Associates Inc., which provided event security at a March 2011 Polk County, Florida, air show operated by Sun 'n Fun Fly-In Inc., court records show.

A tornado hit during the show, overturning the security guard shack Ms. Slora was in and causing her to sustain injuries, according to records.

She filed a claim for workers compensation benefits and settled with U.S. Security, records show.

In August 2013, Ms. Slora filed a negligence claim in the Circuit Court for Polk County against Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, according to records. She alleged that the tornado was foreseeable, and that the company “failed to maintain the guard shack in a reasonably safe condition and to warn invitees of the risks of injury from foul weather.”

Sun 'n Fun argued that the workers comp benefits provided to Ms. Slora by U.S. Security were the exclusive remedy for her injuries and that immunity is extended to a contractor, records show.

The Circuit Court found that certificates of waiver issued to Sun 'n Fun by the Federal Aviation Administration established a “contractual relationship,” according to records. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Sun 'n Fun, as the FAA required the company to provide security at the air show, among other conditions, and that the contractual relationship entitled Sun 'n Fun to immunity as a matter of law.

Ms. Slora appealed, and on Wednesday a unanimous three-judge panel of Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

To be entitled to immunity, Sun 'n Fun needed to show it had a “contractual obligation” to the FAA, and that it “delegated or sublet” part of that obligation to U.S. Security, the appellate court's ruling states.

However, the certificates of waiver appear to be regulatory permits or licenses — not contracts, which facilitate an exchange of promise between two or more parties for a mutually beneficial purpose, according to the ruling.

“Accordingly, the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Sun 'n Fun on the theory that it was immune from tort liability as a 'contractor' under Florida's Workers' Compensation Law,” the ruling states.