Property owners have a legal duty to make sure their property is reasonably safe for those who lawfully enter. Those with the highest duty of care – which includes the responsibility to routinely inspect the property for possible hazards – are those owners whose properties are open to the public for the financial benefit of the owner. Those would include:
This duty can be breached when a property owner fails to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, fails to correct a dangerous condition about which they knew or should have known and/ or failed to warn of that dangerous condition – and the result is an invitee is injured.
In the recent case of Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, Inc., et al., plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a commercial tenant, a landowner and a hired landscaper after suffering a fall outside the store.
According to court records for Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals, plaintiff intended to shop at a local store. The store was located in a shopping mall, which was adjacent to a parking lot. The parking lot as divided by rows that were separated by curbed landscape areas. There are paved pedestrian walkways in the parking areas, while the landscaped areas are a mix of dirt, grass, trees and re-bar tree tie-downs. Concrete curbs serve as the borders.
Plaintiff walked through the parking lot and traversed one of the landscaped areas that was directly across from her destination store. While crossing that landscaped area, she suffered a trip-and-fall accident, and injured her knee. She soon realized that what she’d tripped over was a short, steel re-bar that was sticking out of the ground. It wasn’t tied to any nearby shrubs or trees.
Subsequently, she took legal action against the store, the property owner and the landscaping company. She asserted there was a well-worn path through the landscaped area that it was obvious business invitees to her destination store used as a shortcut to get there from the parking lot.
Trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, relying on the reasoning by the 4th DCA in Wolf v. Sam’s East, Inc. But the 3rd DCA opined that case was distinguishable and not applicable here. In that case, plaintiff tripped over a tree root in a landscaped area while taking a short cut from the parking through a landscaped area to the store. However, the landscaped area wasn’t designed for or used by pedestrians. In that case, the court found that when a person walks into a landscaped area with trees, grass and mulch, that person accepts that there is a hazard to walking, particularly when the curb is raised. Plus, the court ruled the tree roots were so obvious that they weren’t inherently dangerous.
A number of other cases have resulted in courts finding landowners aren’t liable when an invitee falls when walking on surfaces not designed for that purpose.
However, this case was different, the 3rd DCA ruled, because the “landscaped” parking lot feature was in continuous and obvious use by pedestrians for a long time. That means defendants had notice that pedestrians were using the feature for this purpose and therefore had a duty to either make it so that pedestrians wouldn’t walk through there or else assume the duty to make sure it was safe for walking.
The question now at trial will be whether the dangerous condition lasted for such a length of time that defendants knew or should have known about it.
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Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, Inc., et al., May 4, 2016, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Bove v. Naples HMA – Statute of Limitations in Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, April 29, 2016, Orlando Injury Lawyer Blog