Can an Electrician Be Sued for A Fire Due to Faulty Wiring?

Full Question:

My 53 year old disabled son lives in a Resident Owned Mobile Home Park. His mobile home burned down. He had work done on his place by a Board Member who advertised he was an electrical engineer, but we now find he does not have a license. The fire appears to have been caused by faulty wiring. Does my son have any recourse in this matter? He lost everything in the fire.
07/01/2009   |   Category: Negligence   |   State: Florida   |   #17294

Answer:

When a person fails to fails to uphold a duty of care and that lack of care is the cause of foreseeable harm to another, that person may be found liable for damages due to negligence. Negligence claims require the plaintiff to show the defendant owed a duty of care, that duty was not upheld, and that failure of care caused a foreseeable harm. A failure to obtain required licensing won't prevent a person from being liable and will often be used to prove that applicable standards weren't followed, and therefore the duty of care wasn't upheld.

In negligence cases, the most difficult issue to prove is often causation. In cases of fire damage, expert testimony from fire inspectors and reports from building officials and others may be used to prove the cause of the fire. It would need to be shown that the fire was the result of the defendant's actions or lack of care, and that there were not other causes or contributing factors which would entirely or partly relieve the defendant of liability.

I suggest contacting a local attorney who can review all the facts and documents involved.

The following are FL statutes:

489.532 Contracts entered into by unlicensed contractors unenforceable.--

(1) As a matter of public policy, contracts entered into on or after October 1, 1990, by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor.

(a) For purposes of this section, an individual is unlicensed if the individual does not have a license required by this part concerning the scope of the work to be performed under the contract. A business organization is unlicensed if the business organization does not have a primary or secondary qualifying agent in accordance with this part concerning the scope of the work to be performed under the contract. For purposes of this section, if no state or local license is required for the scope of work to be performed under the contract, the individual performing that work shall not be considered unlicensed.

(b) For purposes of this section, an individual or business organization shall not be considered unlicensed for failing to have a business tax receipt issued under the authority of chapter 205.

(c) For purposes of this section, a contractor shall be considered unlicensed only if the contractor was unlicensed on the effective date of the original contract for the work, if stated therein, or, if not stated, the date the last party to the contract executed it, if stated therein. If the contract does not establish such a date, the contractor shall be considered unlicensed only if the contractor was unlicensed on the first date upon which the contractor provided labor, services, or materials under the contract.

(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, if a contract is rendered unenforceable under this section, no lien or bond claim shall exist in favor of the unlicensed contractor for any labor, services, or materials provided under the contract or any amendment thereto.

(3) This section shall not affect the rights of parties other than the unlicensed contractor to enforce contract, lien, or bond remedies. This section shall not affect the obligations of a surety that has provided a bond on behalf of an unlicensed contractor. It shall not be a defense to any claim on a bond or indemnity agreement that the principal or indemnitor is unlicensed for purposes of this section.

489.531 Prohibitions; penalties.--

(1) A person may not:

(a) Practice contracting unless the person is certified or registered;

(b) Use the name or title "electrical contractor" or "alarm system contractor" or words to that effect, or advertise himself or herself or a business organization as available to practice electrical or alarm system contracting, when the person is not then the holder of a valid certification or registration issued pursuant to this part;

(c) Present as his or her own the certificate or registration of another;

(d) Use or attempt to use a certificate or registration that has been suspended, revoked, or placed on inactive or delinquent status;

(e) Employ persons who are not certified or registered to practice contracting;

(f) Knowingly give false or forged evidence to the department, the board, or a member thereof;

(g) Operate a business organization engaged in contracting after 60 days following the termination of its only qualifying agent without designating another primary qualifying agent;

(h) Conceal information relative to violations of this part;

(i) Commence or perform work for which a building permit is required pursuant to part IV of chapter 553 without the building permit being in effect; or

(j) Willfully or deliberately disregard or violate any municipal or county ordinance relating to uncertified or unregistered contractors.

(2) Any person who violates any provision of subsection (1) commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(3)(a) Any unlicensed person who violates any of the provisions of subsection (1) commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(b) Any unlicensed person who commits a violation of subsection (1) after having been previously found guilty of such violation commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(c) Any unlicensed person who commits a violation of subsection (1) during the existence of a state of emergency declared by executive order of the Governor commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

The remedies set forth in this subsection are not exclusive and may be imposed in addition to the remedies set forth in s. 489.533(2).

(4) Each county or municipality may, at its option, designate one or more of its code enforcement officers, as defined in chapter 162, to enforce, as set out in this subsection, the provisions of subsection (1) against persons who engage in activity for which county or municipal certification is required.

(a) A code enforcement officer designated pursuant to this subsection may issue a citation for any violation of subsection (1) whenever, based upon personal investigation, the code enforcement officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that such a violation has occurred.

(b) A citation issued by a code enforcement officer shall be in a form prescribed by the local governing body of the county or municipality and shall state:

1. The time and date of issuance.

2. The name and address of the person to whom the citation is issued.

3. The time and date of the violation.

4. A brief description of the violation and the facts constituting reasonable cause.

5. The name of the code enforcement officer.

6. The procedure for the person to follow in order to pay the civil penalty or to contest the citation.

7. The applicable civil penalty if the person elects not to contest the citation.

(c) The local governing body of the county or municipality is authorized to enforce codes and ordinances against unlicensed contractors under the provisions of this section and may enact an ordinance establishing procedures for implementing this section, including a schedule of penalties to be assessed by the code enforcement officers. The maximum civil penalty which may be levied shall not exceed $500. Moneys collected pursuant to this section shall be retained locally as provided for by local ordinance and may be set aside in a specific fund to support future enforcement activities against unlicensed contractors.

(d) The act for which the citation is issued shall be ceased upon receipt of the citation; and the person charged with the violation shall elect either to correct the violation and pay the civil penalty in the manner indicated on the citation or, within 10 days of receipt of the citation, exclusive of weekends and legal holidays, request an administrative hearing before the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate to appeal the issuance of the citation by the code enforcement officer.

1. Hearings shall be held before an enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate as established by s. 162.03(2), and such hearings shall be conducted pursuant to ss. 162.07 and 162.08.

2. Failure of a violator to appeal the decision of the code enforcement officer within the time period set forth in this paragraph shall constitute a waiver of the violator's right to an administrative hearing. A waiver of the right to administrative hearing shall be deemed an admission of the violation and, penalties may be imposed accordingly.

3. If the person issued the citation, or his or her designated representative, shows that the citation is invalid or that the violation has been corrected prior to appearing before the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate, the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate shall dismiss the citation unless the violation is irreparable or irreversible.

4. Each day a willful, knowing violation continues shall constitute a separate offense under the provisions of this subsection.

(e) A person cited for a violation pursuant to this subsection is deemed to be charged with a noncriminal infraction.

(f) If the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate finds that a violation exists, the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate may order the violator to pay a civil penalty of not less than the amount set forth on the citation but not more than $500 per day for each violation. In determining the amount of the penalty, the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate shall consider the following factors:

1. The gravity of the violation.

2. Any actions taken by the violator to correct the violation.

3. Any previous violations committed by the violator.

(g) Upon written notification by the code enforcement officer that a violator had not contested the citation or paid the civil penalty within the timeframe allowed on the citation, or if a violation has not been corrected within the timeframe set forth on the notice of violation, the enforcement or licensing board or the designated special magistrate shall enter an order ordering the violator to pay the civil penalty set forth on the citation or notice of violation, and a hearing shall not be necessary for the issuance of such order.

(h) A certified copy of an order imposing a civil penalty against an uncertified contractor may be recorded in the public records and thereafter shall constitute a lien against any real or personal property owned by the violator. Upon petition to the circuit court, such order may be enforced in the same manner as a court judgment by the sheriffs of this state, including a levy against personal property; however, such order shall not be deemed to be a court judgment except for enforcement purposes. A civil penalty imposed pursuant to this part shall continue to accrue until the violator comes into compliance or until judgment is rendered in a suit to foreclose on a lien filed pursuant to this section, whichever occurs first. After 3 months from the filing of any such lien which remains unpaid, the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate may authorize the local governing body's attorney to foreclose on the lien. No lien created pursuant to the provisions of this part may be foreclosed on real property which is a homestead under s. 4, Art. X of the State Constitution.

(i) This subsection does not authorize or permit a code enforcement officer to perform any function or duty of a law enforcement officer other than a function or duty that is authorized in this subsection.

(j) An aggrieved party, including the local governing body, may appeal a final administrative order of an enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate to the circuit court. Such an appeal shall not be a hearing de novo but shall be limited to appellate review of the record created before the enforcement or licensing board or designated special magistrate. An appeal shall be filed within 30 days of the execution of the order to be appealed.

(k) All notices required by this subsection shall be provided to the alleged violator by certified mail, return receipt requested; by hand delivery by the sheriff or other law enforcement officer or code enforcement officer; by leaving the notice at the violator's usual place of residence with some person of his or her family above 15 years of age and informing such person of the contents of the notice; or by including a hearing date within the citation.

(l) For those counties which enact ordinances to implement this subsection and which have local construction licensing boards or local government code enforcement boards, the local construction licensing board or local government code enforcement board shall be responsible for the administration of such citation program and training of code enforcement officers. The local governing body of the county shall enter into interlocal agreements with any municipalities in the county so that such municipalities may by ordinance, resolution, policy, or administrative order, authorize individuals to enforce the provisions of this section. Such individuals shall be subject to the requirements of training as specified by the local construction licensing board.

(m) Any person who willfully refuses to sign and accept a citation issued by a code enforcement officer commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(n) Nothing contained in this section shall prohibit a county or municipality from enforcing its codes or ordinances by any other means.

(o) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to authorize local jurisdictions to exercise disciplinary authority or procedures established in this subsection against an individual holding a proper valid certificate issued pursuant to this part.

(5) Local building departments may collect outstanding fines against registered or certified contractors issued by the Electrical Contractors' Licensing Board and may retain 25 percent of the fines they are able to collect, provided that they transmit 75 percent of the fines they are able to collect to the department according to a procedure to be determined by the department.

(6)(a) The local governing body of a county or municipality, or its local enforcement body, is authorized to enforce the provisions of this part as well as its local ordinances against registered contractors, as appropriate. The local jurisdiction enforcement body may conduct disciplinary proceedings against a registered contractor and may require restitution or impose a suspension or revocation of the local license or a fine not to exceed $5,000, or a combination thereof, against the registered contractor, according to ordinances which a local jurisdiction may enact. In addition, the local jurisdiction may assess reasonable investigative and legal costs for the prosecution of the violation against the registered contractor, according to such ordinances as the local jurisdiction may enact.

(b) In addition to any action the local jurisdiction enforcement body may take against the individual's local license, and any fine the local jurisdiction may impose, the local jurisdiction enforcement body shall issue a recommended penalty for board action. This recommended penalty may include a recommendation for no further action or a recommendation for suspension, revocation, or restriction of the registration or imposition of a fine to be levied by the board, or a combination thereof. The local jurisdiction enforcement body shall inform the disciplined registered contractor and the complainant of the local penalty imposed, the board penalty recommended, the rights to appeal, and the consequences should the registered contractor decide not to appeal. The local jurisdiction enforcement body shall, upon having reached adjudication or having accepted a plea of nolo contendere, immediately inform the board of its action and the recommended board penalty.

(c) The department, the disciplined registered contractor, or the complainant may challenge the local jurisdiction enforcement body's recommended penalty for board action to the Electrical Contractors' Licensing Board. A challenge shall be filed within 60 days after the issuance of the recommended penalty to the board. If challenged, there is a presumptive finding of probable cause and the case may proceed without the need for a probable cause hearing.

(d) Failure of the department, the disciplined registered contractor, or the complainant to challenge the local jurisdiction's recommended penalty within the time period set forth in this subsection shall constitute a waiver of the right to a hearing before the board. A waiver of the right to a hearing before the board shall be deemed an admission of the violation, and the penalty recommended shall become a final order according to procedures developed by board rule without further board action. The disciplined registered contractor may appeal this board action to the district court.

(e) The department may investigate any complaint which is made with the department. However, if the department determines that the complaint against a registered contractor is for an action which a local jurisdiction enforcement body has investigated and reached adjudication or accepted a plea of nolo contendere, including a recommended penalty to the board, the department shall not initiate prosecution for that action, unless the secretary has initiated summary procedures pursuant to s. 455.225(8).

(f) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to allow local jurisdictions to exercise disciplinary authority over certified contractors.

(7) The right to create local boards in the future by any municipality or county is preserved.

(8) The department may issue a stop-work order for all unlicensed work on a project upon finding probable cause to believe that electrical or alarm system work which requires certification or registration is being performed without a current, valid certificate or registration. Stop-work orders may be enforced using the procedure and remedies set forth in s. 455.228.