Liability of a property or business owner operating an enterprise on commercial premises can be liable for product suppliers and customers. The duty owed for injuries to a customer or party engaged in a commercial relationship on the premises of a business owner is contingent on the relationship between the parties, the nature of the hazard, and the actual or constructive knowledge of the owner. In this blog post, our Miami personal injury lawyers review an appellate court decision addressing the liability of a gas station owner to the driver of a tanker run down while resupplying fuel to the service station.
The lawsuit was brought by the driver of a tanker truck who was at a gas station to deliver gasoline. According to documents filed in the lawsuit, the truck driver parked his rig at the service station and placed three orange warning cones around his vehicle. The plaintiff entered the store to discuss details about the gasoline delivery. As directed by the owner of the gas station, the plaintiff moved to the area where the gas tanks were located to measure the level of the tank’s prior to filling them. The tanker driver placed an orange cone as a warning in the vicinity of where he was determining the amount of gasoline in the tanks. While engaged in measuring the volume in the tanks, the plaintiff got on his hands and knees to retrieve a tank cap that he dropped inside the tank. Another driver hit the plaintiff as he attempted to fish out the cap.
The plaintiff filed suit against the other driver, manager of the gas station, and the gas station owner. Because the trial judge found that the plaintiff’s knowledge of the potential risk was comparable to that of the defendants, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the gas station.
On appeal, the court reversed the trial judge’s grant of summary judgment. Although the appellate court did not dispute the conclusion of the trial judge with regard to the parties’ relative knowledge, the appellate court found that an issue of material fact existed regarding the gas station’s role in creating the risk. The plaintiff and other witnesses testified about prior incidents involving near misses while making deliveries like the one that led to the plaintiff’s injuries. Since the gas station owner required the plaintiff to measure the volume in the tanks despite the tanker driver’s objections, the appellate court found that a jury could find this mandate placed the driver at greater risk. Based on this reasoning, the appellate court ruled that summary judgment was not appropriate.
While the most obvious defendant in this lawsuit might appear to have been the other driver, there are many reasons that the liability of the gas station owner might have been important. The motorist could have been uninsured given that Florida has the second highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the U.S. Almost one in four (24 percent) motorists in Florida do not have auto insurance. Even if the driver that struck the plaintiff carried insurance, the commercial coverage of the gas station owner probably had much higher policy limits to cover the cost of serious injuries.
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