Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case discussing whether a private residential community could be held liable for the injuries sustained by motorists who were involved in a collision within the community. Ultimately, the court concluded that any alleged negligence of the community was not the proximate cause of the car accident, and thus the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiffs were driving through a residential community when another motorist rear-ended them. Evidently, the plaintiffs’ vehicle had come to a stop to allow oncoming trucks to pass through a narrow area of the road where there were cars parked on both sides of the street. As the plaintiffs waited for the vehicles to pass, they were rear-ended.

The plaintiffs filed a Florida personal injury lawsuit against the motorist that struck their vehicle as well as the residential community. In support of their claim against the residential community, the plaintiffs cited a city code that prohibited parking on both sides of the street. Apparently, when the community was first created parking was only permitted in the driveways of residents’ homes; however, after discovering that this policy resulted in a severe parking shortage, the community allowed parking on both sides of the street. The plaintiffs claimed that by allowing residents to park on both sides of the road in violation of the city ordinance, the residential community was partially responsible for the accident.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case requiring the court to determine if a liability release waiver signed by the plaintiff prevented her from pursuing a case against the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the scope of the release waiver did not include the specific type of claim brought by the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was run over by a pick-up truck while she was attending a race at the Daytona International Speedway. Evidently, before the accident, employees of the speedway instructed the tow-truck driver to back the truck up into the area where the plaintiff was standing.

As a condition of allowing the plaintiff into the raceway, the racetrack asked that she sign a release of liability waiver. In essence, that waiver stated that the plaintiff acknowledged that there were dangers associated with standing on or near the raceway and that she agreed not to pursue any claims if she was injured due to “any negligent” actions of the defendant.

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While no parent wants to think about the possibility of an accident occurring while their child is at school, on occasion these accidents do happen. When a child is injured in a Florida school accident, the parents of the child may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the school based on the school’s duty to keep students safe.

In a recent case released by a state appellate court, a student’s lawsuit against a school district resulted in a defense verdict after the court instructed the jury that the school only owed the student a duty of ordinary care. The student had argued that, based on the “special relationship” that a school has with its students, the school owed her a heightened duty of care.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s interpretation, noting that schools have historically owed students a duty of reasonable care unless the harm was caused by some intentional conduct of a teacher or school administrator. Thus, in that case, the court affirmed the court’s decision to instruct the jury and the jury’s ultimate verdict.

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Anytime someone participates in a sporting activity, there is a risk that they could be injured. However, participants reasonably assume that the organization arranging the game has implemented rules to keep players safe and free from experiencing an unnecessary Florida sports injury.

In a recent opinion released by a federal appellate court, the court allowed a plaintiffs’ lawsuit to proceed against a youth water polo league based on the league’s failure to implement and enforce rules to keep players safe. The case illustrates the type of situation in which a Florida sports injury victim may be able to pursue a claim for compensation for the injuries they have sustained.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the mother of a student water polo player who was repeatedly hit in the head during the game and each time put back into play. The student ended up suffering a concussion and debilitating post-concussion syndrome.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating an important difference between Florida personal injury law and the laws of many other states. The case involved the defendant’s allegation that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury and thus, should be precluded from obtaining compensation for her injuries.

Assumption of the Risk

In some states, if it is determined that a plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risks that resulted in her injuries the plaintiff is not allowed to recover for her injuries. The theory is that a person who is aware of the risks involved in an activity is able to weigh the risks before engaging in a particular activity. In general, Florida courts will not preclude a plaintiff from recovering for her injuries even if she was determined to have assumed the risk of injury. Instead, the court will allow the jury to factor the assumption-of-the-risk analysis into its comparative negligence finding.

There are, however, two exceptions to this rule, one of which is the participation in contact sports. If a plaintiff is injured while engaging in a contact sport, they may be found to have assumed the risks involved. The other exception involves a situation where a person signs a contract agreeing not to sue.

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