Legal Update for Insurance Services - Special Florida Alert

Policies Alone Fall Short: Establishing a Standard of Care and Duty Requires More Than Internal Procedures

A recent decision by the Florida Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed the application of rarely considered case law that analyzes the application of a company’s internal policies and procedures to the standard of care in its industry.

In Discount Tire Co. v. Tammy Bradford, 2023 WL 7228186 (Fla. 5th DCA 2023), the appellee alleged negligence by the employees of the appellant for allowing tires greater than 10 years old to be placed back on a vehicle. Ultimately, the tires failed and caused the death of Bradford’s husband and minor child.

At the trial court, both sides presented experts, but neither opined to a violated industry standard, authoritative regulation or statute that would have applied to the tire repair industry. Instead, Bradford argued that Discount violated its own policies and procedures, as the subject tires, provided by Bradford, were older than the internal policies and procedures permitted.

After Bradford rested at trial, Discount successfully moved for directed verdict based upon Bradford’s failure to establish a duty. After appropriate motions, the trial court reversed itself and granted a new trial based on “this Court's reading of Moyer v. Reynolds, 780 So. 2d 205, 208 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) and its acceptance of [Bradford’s] argument that Moyer stands for the proposition that evidence a defendant failed to comply with its own internal rule or procedure is evidence of the standard of care and evidence of a breach of the standard of care.”

The critical factor as determined by the appellate court was the trial court’s improper reliance on Moyer v. Reynolds, 780 So.2d 205 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001). Bradford argued at trial that Moyer held an organization’s internal policies establish a legal duty owed to a plaintiff. Moreover, a breach of internal policy establishes a case that must be determined by the jury.

However the Fifth District Court of Appeal disagreed and held that established case law supported the position that an organization's policy could not alone establish a standard of care for the applicable industry.

Moyer, a wrongful death action based on medical malpractice, concerned the trial court's exclusion of portions of a doctor's testimony regarding internal policy procedures of a hospital. 780 So. 2d at 206. Critically, Moyer stated that although this testimony was admissible as some evidence of the standard of care, “this type of evidence does not conclusively establish the standard of care.” Id.

In support of this holding, the Fifth District Court of Appeal cited multiple industry diverse cases:

Wal Mart Stores, Inc. v. Wittke, 202 So. 3d 929, 930 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) “[A] party’s internal rule does not itself fix the legal standard of care in a negligence action”; 
Dominguez v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 187 So. 3d 892 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) “[I]nternal safety polices do no themselves establish the standard of care owed to the plaintiff.”; 
Gunlock v. Gill Hotels Co., 622 So. 2d 163 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), where the court held that the existence of an internal policy does not create a substantive duty; 
De La Torre v. Flanigan's Enterprises, Inc., 187 So. 3d 330, 334 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) holding “there is ample case law stating that internal policies do not create a duty to third parties.”; and  
Warren ex rel. Brassell v. K-Mart Corp., 765 So. 2d 235, 236–37 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) where the court held that despite the violation of K-Mart’s internal policy, “[t]he standard of care is set by the community, rather than by a corporation’s internal policy.” 

Discount Tire violated its own policies and procedures. However, that violation does not establish a standard of care for the industry. Therefore the order of a new trial was improper and the trial court’s prior order for directed verdict and final judgment in Discount Tire’s favor was properly reinstated.