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Understanding the Obvious Danger Doctrine in Florida Premises Liability Cases

Florida landowners or occupiers have certain duties towards people who come on their property. The duties owed toward individuals depends on the relationship between the landowner and the entrant. The three classes of entrants recognized in Florida premises liability cases are invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Florida landowners and occupiers owe some degree of duty towards all three classes of entrants.

In the case of an “obvious danger,” Florida law recognizes that people can be assumed to perceive such dangers. If there is an obvious danger, a landowner or occupier may not be obligated to warn others of those dangers. Yet, a landowner is still required to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. This means that even if a landowner is relieved of warning others of apparent dangers, the landowner could still be liable for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.

A recent case before a federal appeals court showed how a property owner could be liable for failing to warn of a hazard and also of failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. In that case, the plaintiff tripped on the leg of a lounge chair when she was walking on a cruise ship. While on their way to a restaurant on the cruise ship, the plaintiff had to walk on a curved walkway between a row of lounge chairs and the ship’s railing. The plaintiff said that the space was so narrow that she walked behind her husband, which she said obstructed her view, and, that while she was walking, she tripped on the leg of a lounge chair, causing her to fall.

The plaintiff sued the cruise ship, claiming that the cruise ship was negligent in failing to maintain a safe walkway and failing to warn her of the hazard. The case was governed by federal maritime law because the woman’s injury took place on a ship sailing in navigable waters. A trial court decided that the placement of deck chairs was an open and obvious condition and dismissed the case. The trial court relied on the plaintiff’s deposition testimony indicating she could have seen the leg of the chair if she had looked down and that she did not walk behind her husband because the walkway narrowed.

However, the appeals court found that there was evidence in the record that the plaintiff was forced to walk behind her husband because the walkway narrowed, and that because her view was blocked by her husband, she could not see the foot of the lounge chair or another the curve of the walkway. The appeals court determined that the trial court wrongfully credited some of the plaintiff’s statements while discrediting others, because at this stage in the case, the court was required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. There was also evidence that the ship had notice of the hazard, because some employees testified that they were instructed to arrange the chairs in an upright position.

In addition, the court explained that, even if the hazard was open and obvious, that only meant that the defendant did not have a duty to warn the plaintiff of the hazard. There was also evidence creating a genuine dispute of material fact concerning whether the ship negligently maintained an unsafe walkway, including that the width of the walkway was below industry standards if the chairs were not in an upright position. Therefore, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision, allowing the case to proceed against the ship.

Contact a Miami Premises Liability Attorney

If you have been injured in a Florida premises liability case, or on the cruise ship of a Florida-based ship company, contact the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we have the resources of a large firm but provide our clients with the personalized attention of a smaller firm. Our goal is to reduce the stress on our clients and to secure the maximum amount of compensation possible for them. Contact us online or call us toll-free at 877-448-8585 to set up an appointment today.

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