The initial question in every premises liability personal injury case concerns the concept of duty. What degree of duty did the landowner (or possessor) owe to the person injured to prevent the accident? Because the next inquiry concerns whether the duty was breached, the answer to the initial question often determines the outcome of these cases. Where no duty is breached, no fault lies. Sometimes the answer to the initial inquiry is clear, sometimes it is not. Due to its importance, duty is frequently litigated although not as much as the issue of breach.
The extent of the duty depends on the person’s status on the property at the time of the accident. The following outline sets forth the various status categories recognized under Florida law and the duty owed under each.
- Public Invitee. A person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. (Example: Family in a public park.) This landowner has the following duties: (1) to correct or warn of dangers that the owner knows or should know of by the use of reasonable care, and which the visitor cannot or should not know of by the use of reasonable care; and (2) to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. (For a fuller understanding of subsection (2), search our blog using the term “Open and Obvious.” Landowners like to claim that because a condition is open and obvious, there is no duty to repair it. This is sometimes correct, but not always.)
- Business Invitee. A person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land. (Examples: A grocery story patron; a paying fan at a Miami Dolphins football game.) Duty: same as for Public Invitee.
- Licensee By Invitation. A social guest. Duty: same as for Public Invitee.
- Uninvited Licensee. A person who chooses to come upon the premises solely for his or her own convenience without invitation either expressed or reasonably implied under the circumstances. (Example: teenagers using a private parking as an ad hoc party location.) Duty: To refrain from willful or wanton injury (e.g., to remove any concealed “traps” of which the owner has actual knowledge).
- Trespasser. A person who enters the premises without license, invitation, or other right, and intrudes for some definite purpose of his own, or at his own convenience, or merely as an idler with no apparent purpose, other than perhaps to satisfy his curiosity. Duty: same as for Uninvited Licensee.
Duty and breach of duty are critical issues in every premises liability case, but not the only ones. Others include proximate cause, i.e., was the accident a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the breach; contributory negligence; and damages.
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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.