In Howard Curd, Et Al. v. Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC. (SC08-1920), the Florida Supreme Court released an opinion that is somewhat timely given the Gulf oil spill. In fact, the court included a footnote that stated "While the plaintiffs filed one of their causes of action under section 376.313, which provides for individual causes of action for pollution of surface and ground waters, it should be noted that section 376.205, Florida Statutes (2004), provides for individual causes of action for pollution of coastal waters and lands also." The court answered two certified questions from the Second District which were:
DOES FLORIDA RECOGNIZE A COMMON LAW THEORY UNDER WHICH COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN CAN RECOVER FOR ECONOMIC LOSSES PROXIMATELY CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENT RELEASE OF POLLUTANTS DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE FISHERMEN DO NOT OWN ANY PROPERTY DAMAGED BY THE POLLUTION?
DOES THE PRIVATE CAUSE OF ACTION RECOGNIZED IN SECTION 376.313, FLORIDA STATUTES (2004), PERMIT COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN TO RECOVER DAMAGES FOR THEIR LOSS OF INCOME DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE FISHERMEN DO NOT OWN ANY PROPERTY DAMAGED BY THE POLLUTION?
The court first answered the statutory question as follows:
In sum, the Legislature has enacted a far-reaching statutory scheme aimed at remedying, preventing, and removing the discharge of pollutants from Florida‟s waters and lands. To effectuate these purposes, the Legislature has provided for private causes of action to any person who can demonstrate damages as defined under the statute. There is nothing in these statutory provisions that would prevent commercial fishermen from bringing an action pursuant to chapter 376.
The court next addressed the Second District's application of the economic loss rule to bar suit by the fishermen. The court stated:
The Second District held that the fishermen's common law negligence and strict liability claims were barred by the economic loss rule and general tort law principles because the fishermen did not own any property damaged by the pollution...The district court found that Mosaic did not owe the fishermen an independent duty of care to protect their purely economic interests...Relying on a negligence principle that the law generally protects interests in the safety of person and property, the district court concluded that the fishermen failed to state a cause of action for strict liability or negligence because they had sustained no bodily injury or property damage.
The Second District, in finding that the economic loss rule applied to the facts of this case, attempted to explain this Court's opinion in Indemnity Ins. Co. v. American Aviation, Inc., 891 So. 2d 532 (Fla. 2004). In American Aviation we undertook a comprehensive look at the economic loss rule including its origin and scope. We clearly stated that the economic loss rule in Florida is applicable in only two situations: (1) where the parties are in contractual privity and one party seeks to recover damages in tort for matters arising out of the contract, or (2) where the defendant is a manufacturer or distributor of a defective product which damages itself but does not cause personal injury or damage to any other property.
Clearly neither the contractual nor products liability economic loss rule is applicable to this situation. The parties to this action are not in contractual privity. Moreover, the defendant in this case is not a manufacturer or distributor of a defective product that has caused damage to itself. Rather we have plaintiffs who have brought traditional negligence and strict liability claims against a defendant who has polluted Tampa Bay and allegedly caused them injury. Thus, the economic loss rule does not prevent the plaintiffs from bringing this cause.
Finally, the court addressed potential common law causes of action.
Justice Polston concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Canady was recused.In addition to finding that the fishermen's claims were barred by the economic loss rule, the Second District also found their claims barred because “Mosaic did not owe an independent duty of care to protect the fishermen's purely economic interests—that is, their expectations of profits from fishing for healthy fish.” Curd, 993 So. 2d at 1083. We hold that Mosaic did owe a duty of care to the fishermen, a duty that was not shared by the public as a whole.....We conclude, as did many of the courts in the cases discussed above, that the defendant owed a duty of care to the commercial fishermen, and that the commercial fishermen have a cause of action sounding in negligence....In the present case, the duty owed by Mosaic arose out of the nature of Mosaic‟s business and the special interest of the commercial fisherman in the use of the public waters. First, Mosaic‟s activities created an appreciable zone of risk within which Mosaic was obligated to protect those who were exposed to harm....Mosaic‟s business involved the storage of pollutants and hazardous contaminants. It was forseeable that, were these materials released into the public waters, they would cause damage to marine and plant life as well as to human activity....Here, the discharge of the pollutants constituted a tortious invasion that interfered with the special interest of the commercial fishermen to use those public waters to earn their livelihood. We find this breach of duty has given rise to a cause of action sounding in negligence. We note, however, that in order to be entitled to compensation for any loss of profits, the commercial fishermen must prove all of the elements of their causes of action, including damages.