Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Each year, thousands of people are injured in Florida workplace accidents. Often, these accidents result in serious injury that requires an employee to undergo medical treatment, reducing or eliminating the employee’s ability to work. In severe cases, employees must take months off work and may not ever be able to return to work in the same capacity as before the injury.

Florida law provides injured workers with two avenues of potential compensation for their injuries. The first is through a Florida workers’ compensation claim. The benefits of a workers’ compensation claim are that it will not require an injured employee to establish that their employer was at fault and, in addition, the process of obtaining benefits is a quick one. However, the damages that are available in a workers’ compensation claim are limited, and do not include compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

Florida workplace accident victims may also be able to pursue a personal injury case against one or more parties. Before getting into the specifics of a personal injury case, it is critical that injured workers understand that not every workplace accident can be the basis of a personal injury lawsuit. Under Florida Statutes Section 440.11, a workers’ compensation claim is an injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer in most cases. As a result, a personal injury case may not ordinarily be filed against an employer. However, third-party claims are permitted. A third-party claim is a personal injury claim filed against a non-employer third-party.

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a golf cart accident that occurred on the defendant’s property. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was more appropriately characterized as a premises liability case or a motor vehicle accident.

The case is important for Florida personal injury victims because it illustrates that there are often multiple theories of liability a plaintiff may be able to pursue against a defendant. In addition, the case shows that the outcome of a plaintiff’s claim may depend on the theory of liability they choose to pursue.

According to the facts section of the appellate court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a golf cart accident. At the time of the crash, the defendant was driving the golf cart, and the accident occurred on the defendant’s land. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident, and filed a personal injury case against the defendant. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant negligently operated the golf cart, resulting in her injuries.

In April 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury lawsuit determining whether the lower court properly allowed the plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to add punitive damages in her claim against the defendant. Ultimately, the court determined that it did not have the authority to review the lower court’s decision.

According to the court’s opinion, a minor child was injured while on a ride called the “Psycho Swing.” The defendant owned the ride. The girl’s parents filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant and several other parties, including the employees operating the ride at the time of their daughter’s injury. The plaintiffs claimed that the ride was missing “crucial safety equipment, safety instructions, etc.” Specifically, the plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in renting out the ride without a safety harness or instructions.

Initially, the plaintiffs claim only included a request for compensatory damages. However, after obtaining additional information, the plaintiff’s sought to amend their complaint to seek punitive damages. The court granted the plaintiff’s request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision immediately.

Under general Florida premises liability law, a landowner has an obligation to ensure that their property is safe for those whom they allow onto their land. In Florida, as is the case in many states, the duty owed to a guest depends mainly on the reason for the guest’s visit. (Note: while trespassers may also be owed a duty under certain situations, that duty is limited and not discussed in this post.)

In general, there are two categories of welcome guests under Florida premises liability law. First, a licensee is someone who enters the landowner’s property for mutual benefit. Typically, these are family members, friends, and social guests. Licensees must be warned about any hazards that are known to the property owner but not obviously visible. The second category of visitor is an invitee. An invitee is someone who enters another’s property for the benefit of the landowner. Historically, invitees were limited to customers or those who entered another’s land for business purposes.

Of course, there are exceptions to these general principles. One of these exceptions is called the “firefighter’s rule.” Over the years, courts developed a rule that firefighter’s and other emergency responders could not hold a property owner liable for injuries they sustained while on the landowner’s property. The firefighter’s rule was based on the principle of “assumption of the risk,” meaning that a firefighter should be aware that her profession is a dangerous one and, by agreeing to serve in that capacity, she accepts and adopts those risks. Of course, this severely limits a firefighter’s ability to recover for her injuries when they are injured on the job, even when their injuries are the result of a landowner’s negligence.

Given the beautiful weather in the Sunshine State, it is no surprise that swimming pools are common across Florida. In fact, it is estimated that there are over 1.1 million swimming pools in Florida. While the majority of property owners include the necessary safety features when putting in a swimming pool. Swimming pools still present a significant hazard, especially to children.

Because swimming pools are so popular, there are a correspondingly high number of Florida personal injury and wrongful death claims based on Florida swimming pool accidents. Realizing that drowning is the leading cause of death among Florida children, lawmakers passed the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act (RSPSA).

The RSPSA acknowledges that the most effective way to avoid a drowning death is supervision by a responsible adult. Of course, many Florida swimming pool accidents occur without an adult being present. This often occurs when a child is able to make their way to the pool unbeknownst to adults. Thus, the RSPSA requires that all Florida swimming pools contain at least one of the following safety features:

Frequently, this blog discusses cases involving a landowner’s duty to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition, or to warn visitors of known hazards. Most often, the dangers we refer to in these cases involve some defect with the property itself. However, Florida premises liability cases are not limited to these types of situations.

In some cases, a landowner can be held responsible for the criminal acts of a third party. While these cases are often referred to as Florida negligent security cases, they are actually based on the traditional theories of negligence. Thus, under Florida law, to establish that a landowner is liable for the intentional criminal acts of a third party, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the landowner did not act with reasonable care to prevent such criminal conduct. Most importantly, this requires the plaintiff to establish that the third-party’s conduct was foreseeable.

A recent state appellate decision illustrates how courts view this type of premises liability claim, and the kind of evidence that may be required to establish a landowner’s liability.

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While Florida landowners generally owe a duty to keep their property safe and to warn visitors of any dangerous conditions on their land, Florida lawmakers have created an exception in the state’s recreational use statute. The Florida recreational use statute was passed “to encourage persons to make available to the public land, water areas and park areas for outdoor recreational purposes by limiting their liability.”

Thus, under Florida statutes section 375.251, a landowner who allows the public to use their property for recreational purposes “owes no duty of care to keep that park area or land safe for entry or use by others, or to give warning to persons entering or going on that park area or land of any hazardous conditions, structures, or activities thereon.” However, the recreational use statute only applies if the landowner derives no commercial benefit from the use of their property.

There are limits to the protection that the recreational use statute provides to landowners, however. For example, the statute does not protect against the “deliberate, willful or malicious injury to persons or property.” A recent federal appellate case illustrates the type of scenario where the recreational use statute may not apply.

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As a general matter, all property owners have an affirmative duty to protect those whom they invite onto their property, and many – if not most – Florida premises liability cases arise based on this type of relationship. However, landowners also owe a duty to protect trespassers in certain circumstances.

Under Florida Statutes section 768.075, the general rule is that landowners do not owe a duty of care to any trespassers who come onto their property. However, the statute also provides several situations where a landowner can be liable for even a trespasser’s injuries. For example, a landowner must “refrain from intentional misconduct that proximately causes injury to the undiscovered trespasser.” While this is an uncommon scenario, a far more typical case of landowner liability is under the attractive nuisance doctrine.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

While section 768.075 clearly states that a landowner does not owe a duty to trespassers in most situations, the statute also notes that it “shall not be interpreted or construed to alter the common law as it pertains to the attractive nuisance doctrine.” The attractive nuisance doctrine is an old common-law doctrine that allows for a landowner to be held liable for a child’s injuries if the child was injured by an object or feature on the defendant’s land that is likely to attract children. A classic example of an attractive nuisance is a swimming pool.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida premises liability lawsuit discussing whether the plaintiff’s case should be able to proceed toward trial despite the fact that the hazard causing her fall was open and obvious. The court concluded that, despite the obvious nature of the hazard, the defendant condo association was not relieved from repairing the known hazard. Thus, the court held that while the plaintiff could not proceed with a failure-to-warn claim against the defendant, her claim based on negligent maintenance of the property.

The Plaintiff’s Injuries

As the court explained the facts in its opinion, the plaintiff owned property in the defendant condo association and had lived there for the past 15 years. One day, the plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk in an area where she regularly traveled when she tripped on an unlevel sidewalk. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall and filed a Florida personal injury case naming the condo association as a defendant.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the condo association argued that the unlevel sidewalk was an open and obvious hazard and because of that, the plaintiff could not recover for her injuries. The trial court agreed, finding that as a matter of law, uneven pavement is considered an open and obvious hazard, and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff filed an appeal.

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Florida is unique in that parts of the state enjoy over 170 days of sunshine each year. As a result, swimming pools are common across the state. However, swimming pools present serious dangers to children, and those who own or operate swimming pools must take precautions to guard against accident drownings.

Florida swimming pool deaths can occur either at a public or private pool. In either event, pool owners have a responsibly to install specific safety measures and, in some cases, to provide adequate supervision. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court discusses a tragic death that occurred at a government-run swimming pool.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff’s daughter was on a field trip to a water park that was run by the local parks and recreation department. Prior to allowing her daughter to go on the trip, the plaintiff contacted the playground coordinator at the park, explaining that her daughter does not know how to swim. The coordinator assured the plaintiff that her daughter would be assessed before she would be allowed into the deeper areas of the pool. However, the young girl tragically drowned while department staff members were changing in the locker room.

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