Florida personal injury claims for premises liability – that is, the duty owed by property owners to those who enter – often hinge on the role of the claimant. That is, were they invited as a member of the public or for the financial benefit of the property owner? They’re invitees, owed the highest duty of care. Were they welcomed or allowed onsite as a social guest or of their own volition for their own convenience? They’re licensees, owed a moderate duty of care. Or were they trespassers? With the exception of some situations involving children, these individuals are owed the lowest degree of care.
So while property owners do have a responsibility to keep their site reasonably safe, measuring the reasonableness of their actions (or lack thereof) usually comes down to what the injured party was doing there in the first place.
Invitees would include shoppers at a grocery store, fans at a rock concert, a package delivery person, or residents attending a city council meeting. The specific duty of care owed to invitees in Florida is to maintain the property in reasonably safe condition AND to warn of any known hazards that could cause harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to discover and fix any dangerous conditions on the property. As our West Palm Beach injury lawyers can explain, property owners are expected to exercise ordinary care in maintaining the premises, which means acting in a reasonably prudent manner to prevent foreseeable injuries to invitees.
Licensees are those who enter a property with the owner’s permission, but for their own purposes. As noted in the 1953 Florida Supreme Court ruling in Stewart v. Texas Co., the owner owes no duty to licensees beyond not willfully or wantonly causing harm or setting traps or intentionally expose them to danger. Property owners do not have a duty to keep the premises safe for those who come there solely for their own convenience or pleasure, yet aren’t expressly invited or induced – even though entry is permitted. Active vigilance to keep the property safe isn’t required of property owners for licensees.
Trespassers, similarly, are not owed a duty of care beyond not being intentionally exposed to harm. (The exception is young children under the attractive nuisance doctrine, occurring when a feature of the site is attractive to youths who don’t fully understand the danger.)
It’s important to note that the specific circumstances of each case can affect the application of the duty of care. Different types of properties, such as residential, commercial, or recreational, may have varying standards of care depending on the nature of the premises and the activities taking place.
A recent example of how this designation comes into play in actual cases was seen in the recent ruling in Ruiz v. Wendy’s Trucking, LLC et al. by Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. Defendants owned a truck parking lot, in which truckers paid to park their rigs during downtime. Mechanical work (aside from minor fixes like changing a tire or swapping out a battery) was forbidden. There were no signs or written contracts stipulating this, but a third party hired to find truckers to rent space informed them verbally. Truckers caught conducting any kind of mechanical work onsite were ordered to stop. That third party then hired a fourth party, an unhoused man who was permitted to stay on site in exchange for patrolling the lot at night for thieves.
The plaintiff in this case was a mechanic who was called to the site by one of the trucker/renters to fix her rig’s transmission – a major mechanical job. The mechanic had been to the site to work on the same truck a week earlier, and he’d seen others working on trucks in the lot that day as well. He conversed with the fourth-party manager of the site, informed him he was there to do mechanical work, and was told the truck owner would be there shortly. She arrived, he got under the truck and started working – and then truck ran over him. He legs and internal organs were crushed, he lost vision in both eyes, and suffered sepsis and sepsis shock, and one of his legs was amputated.
The mechanic sued the property owner, arguing they had a non-delegable duty to keep their property in reasonably safe condition and prevent unreasonable/dangerous activities from occurring on the lot. He said they failed in this duty by failing to prevent repairs from being conducted onsite, not training/hiring someone qualified to supervise the lot, not supervising their own agents/employees, not maintaining or making available the necessary safety equipment, not providing adequate warnings about the prohibition against onsite mechanical work, not having appropriate signs, and not controlling a safe flow of traffic.
The defendants sought summary judgment, arguing they weren’t negligent, but also that plaintiff was a licensee – and therefore the only duty they owed was not to willfully and wantonly harm him, which they didn’t. The trial court agreed, and the Fla. 2nd DCA agreed and affirmed.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Ruiz v. Wendy’s Trucking, LLC et al. , March 8, 2023, Fla. 2nd District Court of Appeal
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