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What Essential Elements Do You Need for a Premises Liability Case?

“Premises liability” is a legal term that refers to the fact that people are responsible for the safety of others on their property. Allowing someone else to get hurt on one’s property is an act of negligence.

Whoever owns or controls the property is the liable party in a premises liability suit. If it can be argued that that the person in charge is reasonably responsible for creating or ignoring a dangerous environment, that is grounds for premises liability. The direct actions or, more appropriately, the direct inaction of the person in charge created the hazardous situation. If there were a faulty wire hanging down that could hurt someone, and the store manager didn’t warn people, that manager is responsible, even if he/she no direct responsibility for fixing the wire.

Elements of a Premises Liability Case

Paperwork

A valid premises liability case needs certain elements. First, there should be evidence of an injury. There needs to be documentation that the injury was treated by a doctor. If there was recovery or rehabilitation time, that needs to be recorded. Any evidence of the injury causing missed work should be collected. The more paperwork related to the injury, the better.

Proof of Negligence

It’s not enough to just show that there was an injury. There also needs to be evidence that the injury could have been avoided, and it’s the owner or manager’s fault that it wasn’t. If someone slipped and fell because they were clumsy, that’s not going to hold up well in court. Showing that someone tripped over a bucket left in the middle of the floor is a much stronger case.

It’s important to study the specifics of premises liability to know if a case holds water. Here are some facts about premises liability, who is eligible to file suit, who is responsible, and some common defenses against a premises liability case:

People Visiting the Owner’s Property

Owners are responsible for the safety of people visiting their property. There are three different legal classifications of visitors.

Invitees

The “invitee” is the person who enters the property for business purposes. In legalese, this is not the same thing as inviting someone over. Invitees are shoppers, clients, medical patients, and so forth.

The state of Florida designates two categories of invitee: business invitees and public invitees. Business invitees are what we would consider customers. Even if someone is browsing items with no intent to buy, the law would classify them as a business invitee. Public invitees are gathered in spaces open to the public. The library, the dog park, the pier – this is where we find public invitees.

Under the law, an invitee should expect the highest degree of safety and care, regardless of whose actions created a dangerous situation. When a restaurant customer drops a plate, it is still the responsibility of the restaurant staff to clean the broken glass for the safety of the other patrons. Owners are expected to regularly inspect property for hazards, keeping their customers safe.

Licensees

Licensees are social visitors to a property. When someone invites their buddy over to play video games, their buddy is a licensee. House parties are full of invitees. Owners are obligated to make licensees aware of any dangers on the property, but they are not responsible for making continued inspections for the sake of visitors.

Trespassers

Even when someone is poking around where they are not supposed to be, they have a reasonable expectation of safety. A trespasser is someone who enters a property when they have no right to be there. There are two designations for trespassers in the state of Florida.

Discovered Trespassers

A discovered trespasser is someone who was detected on the property. They may be seen on security footage; maybe they left something behind; or maybe they made a mess. Their physical presence must be detected within 24 hours for them to be “discovered trespassers.”

Despite the fact that the trespasser is on the property illegally, they still have an expectation of safety. The property owner can be found negligent if there are dangerous items that are unlabeled and not visible. This situation, possibly unfairly, creates a scenario where a trespasser who stepped on an exposed wire could sue the owner. That’s not really the purpose of the law, though. The real reason for this protection is to keep owners from setting traps for scofflaws. Kevin McCallister, the character from Home Alone, is guilty of negligence because he didn’t give the Wet Bandits prior warning of the traps he laid around the house.

Undiscovered Trespassers

An undiscovered trespasser leaves no trace behind. Their presence was undetected within 24 hours of their entering the property illegally. A property owner is responsible only for gross negligence or intentional harm, such as setting traps.

Criminal Acts

Business owners have no liability in the event of criminal acts. If the bad guys are robbing the liquor store, and an innocent bystander is shot, the responsibility is not on the store owner. Similarly, if the person holding up the store manages to get hurt when committing a criminal act, the store owner is free from liability.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

In order to protect children, Florida enacts an “Attractive Nuisance Doctrine” as a form of liability for landowners. Anything that might arouse a child’s curiosity but also endangers that child is an “attractive nuisance.” For example, it’s fine to have a hot tub or jacuzzi, but if a hot tub is fully exposed with no kind of gate or something to keep kids out, it is an attractive nuisance. If a child plays around in this tub and ends up injuring themselves, the owner of the tub is liable.

There is no definitive list of items that are an attractive nuisance. It is up to the judges to decide what falls into this category. Ultimately, property owners need to use common sense. When looking over their grounds, property owners should be asking themselves if there’s anything that a kid could easily have access to and if that access could harm the kids. Is there an empty refrigerator on the front lawn? Is there a big, empty back yard pool with no gate or fencing? Anything dangerous that could reasonably attract children is an attractive nuisance.

Transitory Foreign Substance

A “transitory foreign substance” is something that doesn’t belong where it is and needs to be removed. A banana peel in the grocery store aisle, a puddle in the parking lot, or a bag of spilled marbles would be considered transitory foreign substances.

In a slip-and-fall involving a foreign substance, the plaintiff needs to prove that the landowner either knew of the problem or had a reasonable amount of time to fix it. A customer at a trendy coffee shop spills their drink. The puddle sits there for an hour with no caution sign. None of the staff make an attempt to mop it up. Jack comes by, slips on it, and breaks his ankle. This an example where, by law, the staff should have known about the problem and remedied it.

Liability for a foreign substance is also applicable where the problem occurs regularly, and no one has fixed it. The ceiling at the comic shop always leaks, and no one is putting down a bucket or spending the money to fix it. This would make the shop liable if someone hurt themselves slipping on the water.

Defenses Against Premises Liability

In a personal injury case, be prepared for a fight. The defense is there to do one thing: defend. They don’t want to lose, and the defendant doesn’t want to give away any money. Knowing some common defense tactics beforehand will help a plaintiff and their lawyer build a strong case.

Lack of Knowledge

An owner can claim a reasonable lack of knowledge about the circumstances leading to an injury. If a patron spills milk in the dairy aisle, and another person immediately slips on that milk, it’s hard to argue that the owner or manager could have prevented that.

Obvious Danger

Store owners put down wet floor signs, rope off areas, and place caution tape for a reason. They are protecting themselves from liability. Owners are obligated to warn of any unseen dangers, so they protect themselves with warning signs while protecting their customers.

However, owners are not responsible for obvious hazards. The big box hardware store has a giant buzzsaw on aisle 30. The store uses paint, reflective tape, and signs to make it obvious. If Jimmy is too busy looking down at his phone and runs into the blades, the store is not likely to be held responsible. The saw poses an obvious danger to anyone walking down that aisle.

Assumed Risk

An assumed risk defense is pretty specific. It is unlikely to be used in something like a slip-and-fall. Mainly, “assumed risk” is reserved for places and activities where the customer knows beforehand that there is some inherent danger in the activity.

Going on rollercoasters, on carnival rides, and into funhouses assumes a certain degree of risk on the part of the consumer. If someone twists their ankle running from the chainsaw-wielding clown, they likely knew beforehand that there would be spooky actors jumping out to scare them. Certainly, if the machinery went awry and people were seriously harmed or killed, a strong liability case could be made. It would be difficult, however, for someone to sue Universal Studios if they sustained a minor neck injury on a giant, looping ride.

Comparative Negligence

In the state of Florida, defendants can claim “comparative negligence” to defend against premises liability. Put simply, comparative negligence argues that the plaintiff’s actions were at least partially responsible for their injuries. Perhaps the plaintiff ignored warning signs, or they were sprinting down the shopping aisle. Comparative negligence looks at how much each person was responsible for the injury and assigns a percentage. The plaintiff was 20% at fault, and the defendant was 80% liable, etc.

Florida operates on a system of “pure comparative negligence.” This means that, even if the plaintiff was partly responsible for the injury, they can still gain partial compensation. The state may still award money to a plaintiff based on the percentage of fault. If the court rules that the plaintiff was 35% responsible for their injuries, they will receive only 65% of their full compensation. The good news here is that if the court ruled that a plaintiff was 95% responsible for the accident, that person can still receive at least 5% of the total reward.

Personal injury cases are highly subjective, and the results are up to the courts. When pursuing a premises liability case, it is important to secure a good, aggressive lawyer who will fight for a fair, deserved compensation.

If you have been injured due to negligence, we can help. For a risk-free consultation at no cost to you, call today at 850-764-0383 or contact us online.

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