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The Ultimate Guide to Premises Liability

Premises liability covers incidents like slip and fall accidents and other injuries that happen at a store, business, or on someone else’s property. Whether you are at someone’s house, shopping, in a hotel lobby or at work, understanding premises liability and “duty of care” can help you win compensation after an injury or wrongful death. An expert lawyer specializing in premises liability law will help you decide the best path forward.

Every year, millions of Americans visit hospital emergency rooms to treat unintentional injuries. In 2018, that number was 97.9 million emergency room visits. It’s an incredible number, and it underscores how common accidents are and their severity.

People are hurt every day. Unfortunately, many of them mistakenly take responsibility for accidents, chalking incidents up to “bad luck” or “carelessness.” In minor accidents, they move on quickly. Perhaps a short visit to the doctor or urgent care sets them straight, and they are on their way—a sprained ankle here, a sore back there.

An easy and fast recovery, however, is not everyone’s experience. Each year, millions of people across the country, and thousands here in Florida, deal with chronic pain, broken bones, and other serious injuries. In severe cases, accidents kill people.

Knowing the difference between a simple accident that is an act of God and an accident caused by a property owner’s or business’s negligence is essential. It can determine whether you or your family must pay for medical bills, cover lost income, and manage other expenses tied to the accident, or whether the property is liable and must pay damages.

In this guide, we cover all of the basics you need to know about premises liability and offer advice on what to look for in a premises liability law attorney to help you win compensation for your injuries and other effects of an accident tied to negligence.

What Is Premises Liability?

Premises liability is a concept that exists in the legal world that says a property owner or business must maintain a safe environment for anyone on the property. Of course, preventing all injuries is likely impossible. Owners, residents, and operators must provide a reasonably safe environment, meaning they should perform functions and prevent accidents to the extent any “reasonable” person or business should.

Some simple examples of providing a relatively safe environment include:

  • A property manager or landlord dries wet floor areas where people would reasonably be expected to walk to prevent slips and falls.
  • Businesses clearly mark wet areas, obstructions, dangerous flooring and other potential hazards. (Think malls, restaurants, hotel lobbies, bathrooms, etc.)
  • Keeping a balcony in decent shape for when guests come over for a BBQ.
  • Ensuring any equipment or facilities are in good working order (pools, toys, gym equipment, etc.)
  • Proper installation and maintenance of fire alarms, carbon monoxide detection devices, and other safety equipment.
  • Making sure that merchandise and objects are reasonably secured or stacked so they do not fall or injure customers.
  • Ensuring that there are no risks of electrocution for guests or customers at a property.
  • Determining that the business or property meets state and local safety and building codes and regulations, including fire and life safety codes.

A property owner or business is liable when they fail to live up to this reasonable standard of care. Failing their duty crosses the line into what’s called negligence, or the negligent failure to maintain a safe environment.

Establishing a Premises Liability Case

Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability personal injury cases. They happen all of the time. People trip on wrinkles in restaurant carpets, wet floors, and fall into tables. Others slip as they walk into a bathroom. These types of injuries are very common. Sometimes flooring may become wet from rainwater, drips or something the business did (like dropping something or failing to recognize that there was a wet or slippery area).

There are also more severe premises liability cases where, for instance, people are electrocuted as they use old equipment, or a piece of old gym equipment snaps and sends heavy weights smashing into someone’s head.

How do you know whether something is a freak accident or if an accident is directly tied to negligence? Let’s take a look.

In general, there are four things you must prove to pursue a premises liability claim. They are:

  1. The defendant owned, leased, or otherwise legally occupied the property.
  2. An injured party must show that the defendant was negligent. They need to prove the defendant failed to maintain, repair, or clearly mark safety risks (failing to warn, like putting up “wet floor” signs).
  3. The plaintiff (injured party) must prove that they were indeed injured. (Many people fraudulently claim injuries on other peoples’ property, so the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff).
  4. The injuries were the direct result of the defendant’s negligence.

The Big 4 – Proving Negligence After an Injury

Now that we know the big four components of any premises liability claim, it’s time we clarify some things. Everyone who falls at a hotel is not entitled to pursue damages after the fact.

Remember, you must prove negligence and that any injuries are the direct result of said negligence.

If someone walks across the pool area in an apartment building and slips, pursuing a premises liability claim is a big challenge. Insurance companies, attorneys, juries, judges expect a pool and its immediate area to be wet.  But there may be instances when there is a case of negligence. For example, there may be an area where the owner knows water pools and people could not tell that before they slipped.  If there were previous instances of people slipping and falling.  Or if the surface area used was made of an inappropriate or dangerously slippery material, perhaps  a surface material like a ceramic tile which might become slippery when wet.

A piece of gym equipment that was purchased recently and regularly serviced that breaks and injuries someone is also a tough hill to climb. In cases like these, an injured plaintiff likely has a better chance of pursuing a personal injury claim against the manufacturer rather than attempting to say the property owner was negligent.  But that might be also due to the maintenance or prior notice of incidents.

Again, there must be a direct causal relationship between the owner’s failure to provide a safe environment and any injuries or accidents. Absent those conditions; you may have no case. Unfortunately, sometimes accidents simply happen. An experienced slip and fall or premises liability lawyer will help you know the difference.  But you will not know until you speak with a qualified trial lawyer who knows and understands premises liability and the laws of your state.

If, for example, a place of business has a poor service track record, their maintenance efforts are shoddy, and there is a persistent history of accidents, proving negligence is much easier. Someone who owns a house with a broken balcony whose friends have told them repeatedly to fix it bears some responsibility if they host a party and it collapses under everyone’s weight.

Following the Law When It Comes to Premises Liability

It may seem, up until this point, that proving negligence or pursuing a premises liability claim is difficult. Sometimes that is the case, but an experienced lawyer well versed in state laws and regulations helps.

Over the years, jurisdictions in Florida and other states have made efforts to clarify what constitutes a reasonable standard of care. They pass laws that dictate how quickly a business must post a hazard sign, what type of protections they must implement at pools and other facilities, and other forms of accident prevention.

This helps both the defendant and the plaintiff.

For the defendant, it may define a “relatively safe environment” and what “reasonable” means. They know that they can limit premises liability by following the laws and ordinances relevant to their property, business, or situation.

For the plaintiff, it helps prove when someone is negligent. If, say, the law dictates that a fence in good working order must be around an apartment building’s pool, and the fence is broken or malfunctions, then the evidence is much clearer. Many businesses must adhere to certain standards of maintenance or care. For individual property owners, it’s often much less clear.

Proving Status as a Visitor

Before we forget, we need to touch on who, exactly, is eligible to pursue a premises liability claim when negligence exists.

Visitor status as it relates to premises liability law varies from state to state. Florida differentiates between people invited and people who are not invited (“Invitees”, “Licensees” and “Trespassers”).  Each type of visitor is owed a different duty of care.

Public invitees and business invitees are granted the highest levels of protection under Florida liability law. Let’s dive a bit deeper into different types of visitors and how what you were doing there and whether you were invited will affect your case.

Public Invitee – Florida law stipulates that a “public invitee’ is someone on a property who is there for a purpose for which the property is open to the public. That may sound a little complex, but it basically means someone who is swimming at a public pool or visiting a public museum to look at some art. This definition also covers people visiting hospitals who are sick or who are there to see someone there, etc.

Business Invitee – Business invitees are people who enter or are on a property for a specific purpose related to the business. Think of people going to a store to shop or a family watching a movie at a theater. When someone goes to a store or any other business to shop, participate in paid activities, or any different sort of business engagement, they are classified as “business invitees.”

These two categories of visitors receive the highest protection in Florida premises liability cases. Owners and businesses must post hazard signs, carry out regular maintenance, and keep safe conditions under what is called a “reasonable use of care.” Invitees should expect to remain safe when they are on-premises. It’s unreasonable to think someone who goes to the zoo should expect a glass window to shatter and cut them suddenly.

Premises Liability Law & Licensees

Licensees are another category of visitors. With licensees, you have either invited or uninvited visitors. Here’s the difference:

Invited Licensee – An invited licensee is, perhaps obviously, someone asked onto the premises. These are people who come to perform maintenance, remodel a home, or perform other types of services. In these situations, the property owner or business must maintain safe conditions to a reasonable standard.

Uninvited Licensee – It’s easy to wonder why someone uninvited would show up to perform services for a homeowner or business, but it happens all of the time. Think about how many times a salesperson has knocked on your door. In these instances, Florida property owners need only avoid any willful injury. If you don’t know they are at your house or place of business, it’s unreasonable to expect you to ensure safe conditions to the same extent as if you knew they were coming.

Trespassers

Trespassers are people who are on someone’s property or inside of a business when they aren’t invited or aren’t supposed to be there. As you can imagine, these types of visitors receive minimal cover and protection under the law. Property owners and operators owe them no specific duty of care because it’s impossible for them to know they are coming or are there!

In Florida, however, there are exceptions for underage trespassers. The law goes to great lengths to protect children, and property owners must plan for and prevent potential injuries, even when they don’t expect them. There is a doctrine in the law called the “attractive nuisance,” which is something that might attract children and would pose a risk of harm to them even though they are not supposed to be on the property.

Hiring a Premises Liability Lawyer

If you are hurt on someone else’s property due to no fault of your own, and you feel it may be due to negligence or some other breach of a duty of care, then you owe it to yourself to speak to a premises liability attorney. Most reputable law firms specializing in premises liability offer no-obligation consultations to discuss the details of the accident and whether you have a case.

The right lawyer will gather evidence, secure records like maintenance logs, etc., to see whether a business or a property owner failed to provide a relatively safe environment. A seasoned attorney, perhaps most important of all, will know how to calculate the costs, medical and otherwise, of your injuries to secure the appropriate damages amount for your long-term recovery.

How do you know who to hire for a Florida premises liability case?

There are thousands of lawyers in Florida.  And many consider themselves “personal injury attorneys.’  Few of those are trial lawyers (lawyers who actually litigate cases, takes depositions and go to trial).  And even fewer are highly skilled expert trial lawyers.  You want to find the most highly skilled and experienced lawyer to evaluate your case and represent you.

  • Find out if the lawyer you are considering is board certified. Board certification is the highest formal level of achievement for a lawyer, and most “personal injury” lawyers are not board certified.
  • Find out if he or she holds an “AV” rating with Martindale-Hubbell and a 10.0/10 (“Superb”) rating with AVVO.com.
  • Determine whether the lawyer has tried (not just “handled”) a substantial number of serious personal injury cases to verdict throughout Florida and the country.
  • Is the lawyer you are considering listed in The Best Lawyers in America? Florida SuperLawyers?  Florida Trend magazine “Florida Legal Elite”? South Florida Legal Guide “Top Lawyers”?
  • Has he or she lectured to other personal injury attorneys and taught trial skills to other trial lawyers?
  • Has the lawyer published articles or books in the field?
  • Is the lawyer considered preeminent or elite in his or her field?

Most important, talk with the lawyers and find out about their knowledge and experience in handling cases like yours.

Leighton Law & Florida Premises Liability Cases

John Leighton and Max Panoff are expert Florida premises liability attorneys with a proven track record of securing large verdicts for victims. In the past, he and his team secured a $600,000 verdict for a Sears store clerk injured in the parking lot of a large regional mall. In another case, he won a $500,000 verdict for a shooting victim’s family in Palm Beach County and $24 million for the family of a man shot at a bank. Additionally, John won a victim a $1,045,000 settlement for a victim of sexual assault at a Key West hotel and $1 million verdict for a woman who was hit by falling merchandise at a Costco store in Miami.  In one case, Mr. Leighton recovered $850,000 for a woman who slipped and fall on rainwater outside a resort hotel because he proved that the surface was slippery and the flooring was insufficiently slip resistant for an area that would get wet.  In another similar case, Mr. Leighton and Mr. Panoff won $1 million for a man who slipped on a resort ramp that had become wet from rainwater and which did not have an anti-slip surface. John also recovered $5.5 million for the family of a man who was electrocuted in a hot tub due to improper wiring by electricians and contractors. Over the years, Leighton law has fought for clients and won compensation to pay for their injuries.

If you or someone you know is a victim of an accident on someone’s property, contact us to learn more about what your next steps should be. We offer leading defense strategies to win you damages and hold people responsible for their negligence.

 

 

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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