In a recent case, the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida Second District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a duty to warn or duty of reasonable care premise liability action between the Appellant, Melanie Chadwell Norris, and the Appellee, Alan Rodriguez. Ms. Norris sustained injuries after tripping on Mr. Rodriguez’s concrete driveway and claimed that she was a public invitee because she fell in the portion of the driveway located within a public right-of-way. The trial court categorized Ms. Norris as an uninvited licensee to whom Mr. Rodriguez owed no duty to warn of open and obvious dangers. The appeals court affirmed the lower court decision, rejecting the appeal by Ms. Norris.
After returning home from watching a movie, Ms. Norris walked across the street from her boyfriend’s house while her boyfriend went to get their dog for a walk. It was nighttime and dark outside. After crossing the street, Ms. Norris attempted to cross over Mr. Rodriguez’s property to access a public sidewalk. Ms. Norris allegedly tripped over the corner of the apron of the driveway where the concrete of the driveway was broken and raised, sustaining injuries in the process. Ms. Norris then sued Mr. Rodriguez for her injuries, claiming that she was a public invitee on the property and that Mr. Rodriguez owed her a duty to use reasonable care in maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition. At trial, both parties moved for summary judgment on liability, and the court granted final summary judgment in favor of Mr. Rodriguez, holding that Ms. Norris was at best an uninvited licensee when she entered his property. Ms. Norris then filed an appeal.
On appeal, Ms. Norris argued that she fell in an area of Mr. Rodriguez’s driveway that was located within the county right-of-way en route to the public sidewalk. The appeals court disagreed, finding that Ms. Norris attempted to cut across Mr. Rodriguez’s driveway for her own fancy, to reach the public sidewalk to walk her dog. The court further states that there was no evidence that Mr. Rodriguez held his property open to the public. The appellate opinion states that as an uninvited licensee Mr. Rodriguez owed Ms. Norris a duty “to refrain from willful misconduct or wanton negligence . . . and to refrain from intentionally exposing [Ms. Norris] to danger”—there is no evidence that Mr. Rodriguez breached these duties in the present case. The appeals court affirmed the lower court decision, striking down the appeal.
While the open and obvious doctrine can prevent plaintiffs from successfully holding landowners fully accountable for injuries in Florida, there are other ways to make sure injured parties are properly compensated. Florida landowners are still required to maintain their land and the premises in a safe condition. The courts of Florida have ruled that landowners can still be at fault for failing to maintain a safe premises, even if an obvious or open danger means they do not need to warn others. Specifically, even in circumstances that are open or obvious, property owners should anticipate that people on the property will encounter the hazard, and subsequently can be found negligent for failing to maintain the premises safely. In such a situation, the plaintiff may be found to have contributed to their own injury, but the landowner can still be apportioned blame.
Florida landowning defendants will often try to use the open and obvious defense to protect against their actual negligence when it comes to injuries on their property. Plaintiffs should consult an experienced injury attorney to address these common defenses to make sure they receive the best possible award to recover from their injuries.
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