Premises Liability Issues In The State Of Florida
As a general rule, property owners are required to ensure that their properties are safe for all visitors. If a visitor sustains an injury while on someone else’s property, the visitor may choose to bring a lawsuit against that property owner. This particular subsection of law dealing with these injury suits is called ‘premises liability law’ and each case is a serious matter.
Premises liability law is an area of legal consideration that everyone should consider as it applies to homeowners, small-business owners, property managers of large commercial properties such as hotels or malls, grocery store owners, bars, gyms, restaurants, and more. Tenants who run a business out of a leased property such as a strip mall, or even a tenant leasing a rental property for another purpose, could be held liable for visitor injuries.
In a premises liability lawsuit, the visitor, or party, that sustained an injury will make an effort to prove that her or his injuries resulted from a failure by the property owner to make their property safe. To be successful, in a premises liability case, the injured party needs to prove the following:
- The property owner was aware of or should have known about the hazardous condition
- The property owner failed to make necessary repairs or provide a warning about the hazardous condition
- The party was injured as a result of the hazardous condition
Typically, a property owner is not legally responsible for any injuries caused by conditions on their property of which they were not aware or had no reason to be aware of.
It is expected that anyone who enters another person’s property will exercise sensible care for their own safety and well-being.
Different Levels Of Care
Property owners owe different levels of care depending on the circumstances under which a person enters their property. Generally speaking, visitors fall into one of three categories:
- Business invitees
The Business Invitees
While property owners should be concerned with care for all parties who may be visitors to their property, they owe the greatest level of care to their business invitees, those people who enter their property for business reasons. There is a wide definition of who these parties may be but it would certainly include the following examples, and more: individuals who enter a grocery store or market to purchase food, retail shoppers who may enter stores to buy clothing or other items they need, motorists who drive in to gas stations to fill their tanks, diners who stop at a restaurant, etc. Additionally, workers who are asked to come into homes for work purposes such as cleaning or repairs, etc. are also typically classified as business invitees.
For their business invitees, property owners must ensure that their property is in a safe condition for visitors. Additionally, property owners are required to repair hazardous conditions, or at minimum—provide proper notice of known hazards on the premises. It is the duty of the property owner to regularly inspect their property for potentially hazardous conditions of any type. There is a high expectation for property owners to maintain their property and keep it safe for everyone, and as such a property owner could possibly be found liable if a visitor sustains an injury or injuries due to hazardous conditions the property owner should have known about.
Reiterating, property owners should be concerned with care for all parties who may be visitors to their property, but in consideration of their highest levels of care the second highest level of care should be extended to licensees (social guests). Licensees are family members, friends, coworkers, etc., and others who may enter a property for social reasons such as a dinner party or birthday celebration, casual meeting, ceremony, etc. This level of care should also be extended to neighbors or others who may simply show up for various reasons, day or night.
For the safety of these licensees, property owners are required to maintain their property in a sensibly safe manner free of known hazards, and it is their responsibility to always repair unsafe conditions. The property owner has a duty to warn visitors about any known hazards or hazardous conditions on the property.
Trespassers, of course, do not have permission to visit the property, be on it, etc.; however, property owners have a duty to prevent intentional or careless injuries, even for trespassers. In accordance with the law, for example, a property owner could face possible liability for an intentional injury if any sort of trap or device was set up to injure trespassers.
If a property owner finds a trespasser on her or his property, the property owner is required to advise the trespasser regarding any potential hazards or hazardous conditions on the property that may not be obvious or detected with casual inspection of the premises or property.
An Additional Duty Is Owed To Children
Swimming pools on property should be carefully considered by property owners. Property owners must be especially cautious regarding the protection of all children who enter their property as a guest or even a trespasser. To this point, the ‘attractive nuisance doctrine’ states that property owners are required to exercise extreme care to protect children from potentially hazardous conditions or hazards/dangers on their property that may attract children such as swimming pools, trampolines, abandoned appliances, old vehicles, or any other dangerous item or area that children may find intriguing.
Property owners must take sensible steps to deal with the potential hazards by either removing the hazard or hazardous condition from the property altogether or by protecting children from the hazard. For example, a sensible way to deal with an ‘attractive nuisance’ such as a swimming pool would be to secure the pool with a fence and gate that locks.
Premises Liability Cases: Types
Property owners assume liability for both the inside and outside of their premises/property and must maintain both sufficiently. An example of this would be a motel or hotel owner: the owner obviously must maintain clean and safe rooms for guests, but the owner is required to also provide upkeep and repairs if needed to the sidewalks and entryways, including the parking area, to ensure guests are properly protected from hazards or potentially hazardous conditions.
Annually, some of the more common liability suits involve injuries sustained due to slipping or falling, thus it is important to provide proper upkeep and maintenance to avoid potential liability issues.
A Partial List Of Some Common Conditions That Could Trigger A Liability Case
- Uneven Sidewalks
- Broken Sidewalks
- Insufficient Lighting In Any Area
- Obstructions, Objects, Or Debris On Stairways, Sidewalks, Or Within Aisles And Passageways
- Overflowing Or Spilled Water, Or Other Slippery Conditions On Floors And/Or Walkways
- Broken Or Damaged Handrails On Stairways Or Other Areas Required To Have Handrails
- Uneven Steps That Pose A Risk For Walking Or Improperly Built Stairways
- Poor Lighting For Entryways Or In Stairwells
- Doors Or Windows That Do Not Operate Properly, That Stick Or Pose A Danger
- Dangerously Displayed Merchandise Or Items
Additionally, a homeowner may be held liable for defects or hazardous conditions outside or inside his or her home, including the driveways, yards, etc. Dogs pose an additional liability risk for property owners and homeowners in general. A dog bite or dog attack can certainly result in a premises liability suit against the dog’s owner.