The Violation of a Company’s Internal Policies Alone does Not Create a Duty Owed to a Third Party
Can internal policies of a company create a standard of care or duty to a plaintiff? Stated another way, can a company’s violation of its internal policies result in a breach of that company’s standard of care or duty to plaintiff?
A recent case, Discount Tire Co. v. Tammy Bradford, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Bradford, 2023 WL 7228186 (Fla. 5th DCA 2023), in analyzing case law with respect to this issue, answered this issue in the negative: a company’s internal policy’s do not alone create duties owed to third parties.
In this case, a retail tire company was claimed to have violated its internal policies in rotating (instead of replacing or not servicing the customer) old tires, which subsequently failed resulting in the death of the driver and his son. Although a directed verdict was granted in favor of the retail tire company, the trial court granted a new trial under the premise that the retail tire company’s internal policies created a standard of care / duty to the plaintiff.
“An order granting a new trial is generally reviewed for an abuse of discretion.” However, “appellate courts apply a de novo standard of review to a trial court’s legal conclusions in an order granting a new trial.” “[W]hen an appellate court has determined that a trial court’s grant of a new trial is premised, at least in part, on an error of law, the inquiry then becomes whether the trial court would have granted a new trial but for the error of law.”
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 grants the trial court discretion to order a new trial to any party on all or part of the issues. When granting a new trial, the trial court “must state the specific grounds therefor.” The appellate court is “dependent on the trial court to articulate [the] reasons supporting its order.”
Discount Tire Co., supra, at *2 (internal citations omitted).
Here, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order granting a new trial with instructions to reinstate the directed verdict in favor of the retail tire company. “The fact that [the retail tire company’s] internal policy called for it to refuse service if a customer did not wish to purchase a new tire to replace a ten-year-old tire is not—as the trial court ruled—evidence that [the retail tire company] violated the industry standard of care.” Discount Tire Co., supra, at *3. Accordingly, the violation of internal policies alone do not create a duty owed to a third party.
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