Appellate Court Holds Negligent Security Plaintiff’s Status is Relevant in Lawsuit Against Florida Apartment Complex

A Florida appeals court has found that a negligent security plaintiff’s status on the land is relevant. In Nicholson v. Stonybrook Apartments, LLC, a woman was shot while attending a party in the common area of an apartment complex. Following the incident, the woman filed a negligence lawsuit against the complex in a Florida court. According to the woman’s complaint, the apartment complex failed to provide adequate security or maintain the premises in a safe manner. In response, the complex countered that the woman was trespassing on the property when she was shot. Because of this, the complex argued that its duties related to the woman’s safety were extremely limited.

Prior to trial, the woman sought to exclude all evidence related to her status on the property at the time of the shooting. In addition, the woman argued that whether she was a trespasser was irrelevant because she did not file a premises liability case against the apartment complex. The trial court ruled that the woman’s status to the land at the time of her injury was important because it had an effect on the duty the apartment complex owed to her. Because of this, the trial court instructed the jurors to determine whether the injured woman was a trespasser or an invitee when she was shot.

At trial, a former manager for the apartment complex offered testimony stating the woman was not allowed to be at the apartment complex. In addition, a local police officer also testified that the injured woman was told on more than one occasion that she was not welcome on the property. After considering all of the evidence, the jury found that the injured woman was trespassing at the time of the incident and returned a verdict in favor of the apartment complex. The woman then appealed her case to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the injured woman claimed that the trial court committed error when it allowed the jury to consider whether she was trespassing at the time of the shooting incident. She also argued that her status to the land was not relevant in an ordinary negligence action.

First, the appellate court explained that a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty of reasonable care in an ordinary negligence action. After that, the court stated the duty of care a property owner owes to an injured plaintiff varies based on the plaintiff’s status in a premises liability case. The court added that Section 768.075 of the Florida Statutes states a property owner is only required to refrain from intentionally harming an undiscovered trespasser. Similarly, a landowner must not commit gross negligence against a known trespasser. A landowner is also required to warn a known trespasser about any hazards that are identified but not readily apparent.

Next, the Fourth District said a Florida property owner may be held liable for any harm a trespasser sustains on its property in certain circumstances. In general, the court said such cases normally result from the active conduct of the landowner. The court then said that, although no decision was on point, relevant Florida case law supports the conclusion that a negligent security claim is not an ordinary negligence cause of action. Instead, the court found that such a claim falls under the premises liability body of law. In addition, the appellate court stated the case law that was cited by the injured woman supported the assertion that the status of a plaintiff is relevant in a Florida negligent security lawsuit.

Since the lower court did not commit error when it allowed the jury to consider the woman’s status on the land at the time she was shot, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the apartment complex.

If you were hurt as a result of a Florida property owner’s negligence, you need a hardworking lawyer on your side to help you protect your rights. To discuss your rights with a seasoned Miami personal injury attorney today, call the veteran lawyers at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Nicholson v. Stonybrook Apartments, LLC, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2015

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