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Premises Liability and the Duties Owed by Property Owners

Premise Liability and Gavel

Premises liability involves claims for personal injuries that occurred on someone's real property. Florida law places duties on landowners to keep their property safe. However, the level of duty imposed on the landowner depends on why the other person was on the property when they were injured. Under Florida law, people entering another person’s property are considered invitees, licensees, or trespassers.

Invitees: Individuals invited onto the property by the owner can be public invitees or business invitees. Florida law grants invitees the most legal protection for injuries they sustain while on someone's property, which is the main category of premise liability cases. Therefore, property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees.

The duty of care owed to invitees include the following duties:

  • The property owner must keep their property in a reasonably safe condition.
  • The property owner has a duty to protect an invitee from dangers of which the property owner is reasonably aware or should be aware.
  • The property owner has a duty to warn invitees of concealed dangers that are or should be known to the owner that are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered by the invitee through reasonable observation.

For example, say your water heater is broken and the water is dangerously hot. The repair person has not yet arrived. You have a duty to warn guests that the water is too hot; if you fail to give a warning and they go to wash their hands, burning themselves, you have breached your duty to the invitee.

  • Public Invitees: A public invitee is someone who is personally invited to enter or remain on the property. This can occur when the land is held open to the public, such as in a local park.
  • Business Invitees: Business invitees are those who enter a property to conduct business. As a result, property owners owe them the highest level of care. Workers invited to work on a premise also fall under this category.

Licensees: A licensee is a person who comes on the property for their convenience without either expressed or implied invitation.

For example, a person who walks into a store to get change but does not purchase anything is a licensee because it was for their convenience and not for a business purpose. However, if they had purchased something, they would be qualified as invitees rather than licensees. Another reason a person could be classified as a licensee rather than an invitee is if they lose their invitee status during their visit. For example, you are at an amusement park for which you paid an entrance fee, so you are an invitee. Let’s say that during your visit, you ignore an employee-only sign and enter an area that exceeds the scope of your invitation. You will likely be classified as a licensee if you are injured in an area where you were not invited. While you still owe a duty of care to a licensee, it is not as vast as the duty owed to an invitee. The duty of care owed to a licensee is to refrain from willful misconduct or wanton negligence, warn of dangers that are not open to ordinary observation, and refrain from intentionally exposing the licensee to danger.

Trespassers: A trespasser is a person who enters the premises of another without license, invitation, or any right to enter the property. Instead, they enter the property for some definite purpose of their own, at their convenience, or even as a wander for no apparent purpose. Typically, the only duty owed to a trespasser is to avoid willful and wanton injury. However, once the property owner discovers the trespasser, an additional duty to warn of known dangerous conditions that are not obvious through ordinary observation is activated. Once the trespasser is discovered, they become a licensee, and the duties owed to a licensee should be provided.

Specific Circumstances of Premises Liability

Attractive Nuisance: Florida law provides that a property owner can be liable to young children who trespass on their property even if they did not cause a willful or wanton injury to the children. This liability comes from the attractive nuisance doctrine. A parent may argue that the property owner maintained dangerous conditions that attracted the young child onto their property without taking the proper steps to warn or protect children from the danger of the attraction. For example, pools are considered attractive nuisances to young children, which is why most cities require fences of a certain height to ensure that children are not injured by wandering onto a property and drowning. When arguing the attractive nuisance defense, the plaintiff must show actual or constructive knowledge of the attractive nuisance. They must also show that the children would not be able to understand the risks presented and that the burden of eliminating the danger was small compared to the risk it created for children.

Actual Knowledge: When a property owner or their agent is aware of the danger posed on a property, they have acted negligently. For example, if an employee mops but fails to warn of a wet floor, they are aware of the danger but fail to take appropriate measures to protect invitees against it. Therefore, they will likely be liable for dangers resulting from the wet floor. Additionally, actual knowledge can occur when a third party creates the danger, and the property owner, its employees, or agents become aware of the danger but fail to take the appropriate measures to protect invitees from it.

Constructive Knowledge: Constructive knowledge is more difficult because proof of it may come from circumstantial evidence showing one of two things:

  • The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care the owner should have known of the dangerous condition
  • The condition regularly occurred and therefore should have been foreseeable

For example, if a property owner knows that when there is heavy rain, the roof leaks, but does nothing to protect invitees from any dangers caused by the problem. Then, suppose someone was injured from dangerous conditions caused by the heavy rain. In a case like this, the property owner would likely be liable for injuries sustained as a result.

Common Premises Liability Cases

Premises liability is an umbrella term for several different types of actions against property owners.

Some common examples of premise liability cases include:

  • Slip and falls
  • Dog bites and animal attacks
  • Elevator and escalator accidents
  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Construction accidents

If you were injured on someone's property, it is essential that you consider making a claim for damages, even if you are friends with the property owner. Generally, property insurance will cover the injuries sustained, so your friend will not be held personally liable. Damages If you have been injured on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages. Economic Damages

Economic damages include objective financial damages including:

  • Past medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are subjective and include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Inconvenience
  • Loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life

Florida Premise Liability Attorney

If you have been injured on someone else’s property, it is essential that you contact an experienced premise liability attorney at The Watson Firm to help you navigate through the justice system. Contact us today by calling (850) 607-2929 or contacting us online for a free consultation.