Premise’s Owner to Maintain Premises

                Under the law of Florida, the owner of a property or a tenant of the property is responsible for maintaining a property in a reasonable condition free of hazards. If the owner fails to do so, then it may create a liability if a visitor is injured because of negligence. If you are considered an “invitee,” a “licensee,” or even a “trespasser,” the property owner will have some (if not all) responsibility for any injury that occurred on the property.

An Invitee is someone that was invited onto the property for business purposes. For example: a shopper, a visitor to a public property, and any social guests. For injury to an Invitee, the duties for a premises liability charge has to be:

  • To maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.
  • To correct dangerous conditions the landowner knew existed.
  • To warn of any dangerous conditions.

A Licensee is someone who is on the property for purposes that directly benefit that person. For example, a person getting gas at a station. There are three duties for the owner to uphold:

  • Don’t expose the Licensee intentionally to danger.
  • Warn a Licensee of any condition known by the owner.
  • Refrain from just not doing anything that would injure a Licensee.

A Trespasser is those that enter a property without permission. Even if they are there for unlawful reasons, the trespasser is still entitled to some degree of protection. If the owner of the property doesn’t know someone is trespassing, then the only thing the owner needs to do is refrain from intentional misconduct that causes injuries. If there is a discovered trespasser on the property, which is someone the owner knew was on the property within 24 hours of the accident, then the property owner just refrain from intentional problems and warn of the dangerous conditions that aren’t obvious.

Children are the exception to this. Children are too curious, so they are more likely to trespass unintentionally. Anything that a child does on a person’s property that gets the child injured is going to make the property owner liable if the owner didn’t fix any hazards that would entice children.

For convenience stores, the business owner has the responsibility to train the employees properly to deter crime and keep the area safe for customers. That includes security cameras, lighted parking lots for after dark, and limited cash on hand during the evening when crime is more likely.

There is only one qualification that categorizes a personal injury case as a premises liability case: the event happened on the property. Because of this, there are many different premises liability cases. Some of the most common are:

  • Slip and falls.
  • Trip, fall and missteps.
  • Dog bites.
  • Negligent or inadequate security.
  • Elevator/ escalator incidents.
  • Swimming pool accidents.
  • Landlord, tenant and rental property accidents.
  • Falling objects.

The owner of the property isn’t the only one that can be liable for unsafe conditions. The legal duties also apply to anyone in possession of or controlling the property. Florida court has said that “If a person or entity has the right to control access to the property then they are just as responsible as the property owner to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” (Metsker v. CareFree)

Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof

                The Burden of proof is when a plaintiff is required to prove the case by a “preponderance of evidence” or to prove that something most likely happened then not. This is something that happens generally in all civil cases. This requires the plaintiff to prove a 51% chance that you are telling the truth, but most of the time that isn’t enough.

This does not mean that your case must have more evidence than the defendant. It means that you must have evidence with sufficient proof that the defendant’s actions led to your injury because of negligence. The defendant only has to provide evidence in certain circumstances.

What happens most often is the defendant rebuts the claim, sometimes just by introducing evidence of their own. With this, all the defendant has to do is make the court believe that it’s a 50% or more chance that your accusation is false.

Plaintiff must Prove Presence of Hazardous Conditions

                There are different ways that an attorney can prove that an area is considered hazardous. One way of proving this is by finding out if the problem area has caused injuries in the past. Most times, though, there isn’t any of that evidence because no one came forward with it or there hasn’t been a problem in the past.

Another way to provide proof is to put forth evidence that the injury was foreseeable, meaning that the owner could tell that something would cause an injury but did nothing to rectify it. The owner could have either fixed the issue or put-up precautions for the place where the injury had occurred. Just because the accident hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

Finally, to show that something could cause injury is to show that there are industry standards to protect people against a particular problem that the owner didn’t fix. The fact that other industries considered that condition dangerous shows the owner that the condition was bad.

Unfortunately, when danger is obvious, there’s no need to warn of dangerous conditions. The owner must still correct the dangerous area, but that doesn’t mean there has to be any warning. Again, it depends on if the owner knew about the area and didn’t fix it or not.

There is a statute of limitations in the state of Florida, and every type of personal injury case has one. The length of time you must bring in a case of Premises liability involving personal injury is within 2 years.

Make sure that if you are injured on someone else’s property, you seek the medical help you need. It is also wise to note that evidence at the scene of the injury might not be there later. So if you or someone you are with has the ability, try and gather some of the following evidence:

  • Pictures of the area up close and far away.
  • Pictures of the property up close and far away.
  • Pictures of how the lighting is in the area during the time of injury.
  • Names and contact information for all witnesses to the event.
  • Name of any employees at the scene.
  • Fill out an incident report and obtain a copy of it.
  • Pictures or documentation of the injury you sustained.

Transitory Foreign Substance Fla. Stat. 768.0755

                There has been a high growth rate of fraudulent personal injury claims in the Unites States. Because of this, the Florida legislature created the Florida Statute section 768.0755. This statute moved the burden of proof to the plaintiff instead of the defendant. Before, the owner of the area where the injury happened had to prove they weren’t responsible for the injury. Now business owners don’t need to prove anything or have evidence until the plaintiff meets their burden.

768.0755 Premises liability for transitory foreign substances in a business establishment. —

(1) If a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it. Constructive knowledge may be proven by circumstantial evidence showing that:

(a) The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition; or

(b) The condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.

(2) This section does not affect any common-law duty of care owed by a person or entity in possession or control of a business premises.

History.—s. 1, ch. 2010-8.

Examples of Summary Judgements for the Landowner

                Delores Arp v. Waterway East Association, Inc.:

The Plaintiff was injured while walking over a pathway of “paver stones” located in the area of a utility easement on property owned by W.E. Association. The plaintiff stepped on a cracked paver stone that was “a little loose,” causing her to roll her ankle and fall.

To access the plaintiff’s street via this “cut through,” one has to go through the shopping center’s parking lot, step over a raised curb at the end of the parking lot, and then walk through a grassy area, over a short path of paver stones located next to a storm pump station, through more grass, and around a guardrail.

First, W.E. Association did not willfully or wantonly harm the plaintiff. Second, the property did not contain any “known dangers” that were not open to ordinary observation. The condition of the paver stones was open to ordinary observation. Moreover, even if there were concealed dangers on the property, W.E. Association was not aware of the plaintiff’s presence on the property until after the incident. The duty to warn an uninvited licensee or trespasser of a concealed danger known to the owner arises only when the owner discovers the entrant’s presence on the property. 7 For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the summary judgment in favor of W.E. Association. [i]

Thomas Brookie v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.

                Thomas Brookie went to Winn–Dixie to make a purchase and get empty boxes. During his visit, Brookie made a total of four trips into and out of the store. On the first trip, Brookie made his purchase and took it to his car; he then made three more trips into Winn–Dixie to obtain empty boxes, returning them to his car. During this time, a Lewis Bear employee was delivering a shipment of beer. The beer was stacked approximately five feet high on a pallet between Winn–Dixie’s entrance and exit doors, and an empty pallet was sitting on the pallet jack’s prongs to the right of the exit. On Brookie’s third trip exiting the store, he saw the empty pallet, but tripped and fell over it, suffering injuries as a result.

The court determined that under the circumstances an empty pallet near the exit of a grocery store was “open and obvious and not inherently dangerous.”[ii]

If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident and need legal assistance from an attorney to help in Panama City or the surrounding areas, contact The Tabbaa Firm for a consultation.

[i] Delores Arp V. Waterway East Association, Inc

[ii] Thomas Brookie v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc

(Updated Sept 2023)