A West Palm Beach woman lost her appeal against a condominium company; she had sued for damages following a slip-and-fall in a retail area.

In Arp v. Waterway East Association, the victim slipped on a loose pavement stone in a shopping center parking lot about 11:00 one night. At trial, the victim testified that she was not on the premises to shop, but she and her companion used the shopping center’s property as a short cut. The trial court granted summary judgement for the shopping center, because the victim was not on the premises to shop so she “was at best a licensee.”

The Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the victim’s argument that she was an invitee by implication. According to the decision, to be an invitee means that “the visitor entering the premises has an objectively reasonable belief that he or she has been invited or is otherwise welcome on that portion of the real property where injury occurs.”

Legal Aspects of Premises Liability Cases

All landowners have a legal responsibility to make their property safe for visitors and other nonowners, and the extent of that duty depends on the purpose for their present.

  • Invitee: If the owner realizes an economic or noneconomic benefit from their presence, the visitors are invitees. In fact, even if there is only a potential benefit (such as a window shopper), this label normally still applies.
  • Licensee: If the visitor is a guest of a hotel guest or another individual whose presence neither offends nor benefits the owner, the middle category applies. In these instances, owners must warn licensees about latent (nonobvious) defects; for example, a playground owner probably needs to post signage warning people that the equipment may get very hot in the summer.
  • Trespasser: Occasionally, stories surface about burglars who sue homeowners for damages due to injuries sustained in their activities. There is a kernel of truth in these tales, because nonowners cannot intentionally harm trespassers under the law. But for the most part, these stories are greatly exaggerated.

There are some important exceptions to the trespasser rule. One is the attractive nuisance doctrine, and it often applies in swimming pool drowning cases. Essentially, if the owner has a swimming pool or some other place where children are likely to play, the owner must take special precautions. The other exception is the frequent trespasser rule. Normally, an owner owes a higher duty of care to some individuals who trespass on the land for recreational purposes, but the Florida legislature has sharply limited this rule in its application.

To establish liability, victim/plaintiffs must prove that the owner knew about the defect, in addition to proving that they were entitled to legal protection. If there is no direct evidence of knowledge, and there usually is not, victim/plaintiffs may use circumstantial evidence to prove constructive knowledge (should have known). As a rule, the longer a hazard exists, the easier it is to prove constructive knowledge.

Contact Experienced Attorneys

Owners must protect visitors from harm. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed.

From our office in Brandon, Reed & Reed helps clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, East Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida.