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Florida Appeals Court Affirms Lower Court Decision in Sidewalk Negligence Case

In a recent case, the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a dispute between a patron, Marvel Martin, and a restaurant, Columbia Food Service. Mrs. Martin tripped on a hexagonal piece of pavement immediately outside of the restaurant doors and contends that Columbia Restaurant was responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. Specifically, Mrs. Martin contends that Columbia had joint and shared responsibility with the City of Tampa for the pavers located around the Restaurant. Stating that Columbia Restaurant had actual possession and control of the sidewalk and therefore assumed the duty to keep it free from dangerous conditions. They further state that Columbia Restaurant’s duty extends beyond the confines of the Restaurant because it invited customers to use that sidewalk for entrance and exit to the location.

On May 21, 2017, Mrs. Martin was having lunch with her sister at the Columbia Restaurant. As she was leaving, she tripped on an uneven hexagonal paver located directly beneath the awning that the Columbia Restaurant owns and maintains. The awning is attached to the Restaurant and is supported by pillars affixed above the sidewalk. The City of Tampa permits Columbia Restaurant to erect the awning, but the agreement makes no mention of the sidewalk. Columbia Restaurant has porters check the sidewalk for debris each morning, and each week, the porters power-wash the sidewalk and parking lot. Based on these facts, the trial court granted summary judgment in Columbia Restaurant’s favor.

Mrs. Martin appeals, stating that Columbia Restaurant has joint and shared responsibility with the City of Tampa for maintaining the sidewalk and that the Restaurant has actual possession and control of the sidewalk, making it their responsibility to keep it free of dangerous conditions. Additionally, Mrs. Martin contends that it is Columbia Restaurant’s duty extends beyond the confines of the Restaurant as it invites customers to use the sidewalk for ingress and egress.

The appeals court holds that the mere fact that the sidewalk is used for ingress and egress does not mean it exercises control over the pavement or that it creates a foreseeable risk for customers. The appeals court states that simply because the Restaurant attempts to make the area outside more aesthetically pleasing does not extend the geographic space to which the restaurant owes a duty to patrons. Additionally, the appeals court points out that simply because the portion of the sidewalk that is uneven is closer to the Restaurant does not make it more of the Restaurant’s duty any more than an uneven sidewalk over a block away would be their responsibility. The lower court decision is affirmed by the appeals court.

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