In Anderson v. Walthal, 468 So.2d 291 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), a business invitee and his wife brought an action against a landlord and manager seeking damages for injuries suffered when he was bitten by a dog owned by a tenant. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the landlord, but denied summary judgment as to the manager. The 1st DCA held that: (1) the landlord did not need to have actual, personal knowledge of the dog’s existence before he could be held liable, and (2) genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the manager’s knowledge of the dog’s presence and vicious propensities and scope of his employment were such as to allow imputation of his knowledge to the landlord, precluding judgment for the landlord.
Basically, in Anderson, the plaintiff went to the defendant landlord’s industrial park seeking a mini-warehouse to rent to store his furniture. One of the tenant’s owned a pitbull and the plaintiff was not aware that it was on the property, and the dog attacked him. The manager was aware of the dog’s presence and testified that the dog had “lunged” at him on a prior occasion. The landlord had no actual knowledge of the dog’s existence on the property. The 1st DCA applied pure agency principles and agreed with the plaintiff that the landlord, as the owner of the property, delegated the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe, to the manager, as agent and manager. In that regard, “t is equally settled that knowledge of, or notice to, an agent is imputed to the principal when it is received by the agent while acting within the course and scope of his employment, and when it is in reference to matters over which the agent’s authority extends.” Id. at 294. The DCA stated that logically, the dog created a dangerous condition on the premises and should a jury conclude that the Manager had actual knowledge of the dog’s presence and its dangerous propensities, and that the Manager’s authority included keeping the premises safe for business invitees, then that knowledge may be imputed to the Tenant/Owner under the principles above enunciated.
Florida courts have applied pure agency principles in a variety of case types and factual settings in assessing the issue of whether certain knowledge of or notice to an agent is imputed to a principal/employer. For example, in Johnson v. Life Ins. Co. of Georgia, 52 So.2d 813 (Fla. 1951), the Supreme Court laid out the general principle that the knowledge of an issue by an agent is imputed to the principal insurance company, and whether the knowledge is disclosed or not disclosed to the principal by the agent, the principal is still bound by that knowledge. In an asbestos claim/product liability claim in Davies v. Owens-Illinois, 632 So.2d 1065 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994), the 3rd DCA discussed the general principle that “hatever knowledge an agent acquires within the scope of his authority is imputed to his or her principal.” Id. at 1066.