While the owner of a store or other business might be financially responsible to customers, vendors, or other members of the public that fall on their premises, the classification of the visitor will be essential in making this determination. Even property owners who run a business open to the general public do not have a legal duty to guarantee the safety of visitors under all circumstances. The scope of the duty owed to an individual on the property of another depends on whether the person is classified as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. In this blog, our Miami premises liability lawyers review a recent decision from the 4th DCA that upheld summary judgment against a fall victim.
In Delores Arp v. Waterway East Association, Inc, et al, The plaintiff was walking with a companion when they decided to use a shortcut across the property owned by a business with an easement belonging to the City of Delray Beach. The court noted that the shortcut required the plaintiff to pass through the parking lot of a shopping center, step over a curb at the end of the lot, and cross a grassy area by stepping on a path of paver stones before walking across more grass and around a guardrail. Documents in the lawsuit alleged that the plaintiff tripped on defective paver stones which caused a fall and injuries. The City of Delray Beach also possessed an easement over the area of the fall to access and attend to storm pumps and public utilities.
Invitees, Licensees & Trespassers under Florida Law
Under Florida common law (past court decisions), the scope of the duty of care owed to people who come on their premises depends on the purpose of the visit and identity of the visitor. Individuals who come on the premises of others are characterized as invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Owners owe invitees the highest duty of care. Invitees are on the property of another because they have an express or implied invitation. This permission can be implied if the plaintiff would have an objectively reasonable belief that he is welcome or invited into the area of the hazard. The property owner owes a licensee a duty to warn, remedy, and maintain the property to protect visitors from hazards.
The protection provided to a licensee or trespasser is less extensive. Invitees are on the property for their own purposes without either express or implied permission. The 4th District Court of Appeals characterized the property owner’s duty to a licensee as an obligation to abstain from wanton or willful harm and to warn of known hazards not open and obvious once the landowner learns of the risk. Trespassers are present on the premises of another without any express or implied permission or invitation. The 4th DCA characterized the duty owed to a trespasser as refraining from causing wanton or willful injury.
Court Finds No Implied Invitation in Walking Path and Past Use of Shortcut
The trial court in Delores ARP granted summary judgment for the defense based on the determination the plaintiff was an uninvited licensee, so the only duty owed was to avoid wanton and willful injury. The appellate court agreed with this analysis and also observed that evidence was not introduced to establish the property owner was aware the plaintiff was present on the premises.
The plaintiff argued that the property owner was liable based on several theories. The creation of a walking path with the placement of paver stones evidenced an implied invitation according to the plaintiff. The plaintiff also contended that the implied invitation was reinforced based on the absence of a “no trespassing” sign. The court rejected these arguments, as well as the premise that an implied invitation was created because other people had crossed this part of the property in the past.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Victims and Families
While the court upheld summary judgment for the defendants in this case, sometimes a landowner’s knowledge that the public has been using a shortcut across an individual’s property is evidence of an implied invitation elevating an injury victim to the status of an invitee. Our experienced Florida premises liability attorneys understand the facts and circumstances that can persuade a court to hold a property owner liable for injuries caused by a hazard on the premises. Our lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance clients need to pursue the results they desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.