Property owners in Florida have a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe and to warn visitors of dangerous conditions. This duty applies to hazards that the owner knew about, but which a visitor could not have discovered by exercising reasonable care. In fact, an owner sued by an injured visitor can raise the defense that the danger was open and obvious, so that no warning was necessary. Can the visitor still recover damages in such a case?
A recent appellate court opinion has answered affirmatively, underscoring that an “obvious danger” is not a complete defense but instead is a factor in deciding who is at fault for the accident. Florida juries are required to compare the parties’ negligence and assign a percentage of the blame to each party. A plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by the percentage of his or her fault, but the defendant usually will be required to pay something.
In the case, Pratus v. Marzucco’s Construction & Coatings, Inc., an employee of an electrical subcontractor was injured when he stepped into an uncovered drain on a construction site. He admitted having seen the drain uncovered several times during his work on the project. The trial court dismissed the case. In reversing, the appeals court held that premises liability can apply if the property owner should have anticipated the harm, despite the dangerous condition being obvious.
The court’s opinion highlights important aspects of demonstrating a property owner’s negligence.
First, it is the danger — not the condition — that must be obvious. Even if you were injured due to a condition of the property that you knew about, you may have mistakenly thought the landowner put safeguards in place against any danger. For instance, in the Pratus case, the drain was at various times covered or uncovered. The door leading to it was sometimes marked with caution tape. But on the day of the accident, the caution tape had been removed although the drain was uncovered.
Second, owners are required to anticipate the behavior of those who enter the property. A construction site can be a veritable minefield of hazardous obstacles and traps. You might have needed to get to a particular location and there wasn’t any safer route you could have taken. Even visitors who knew of the danger could be partially excused if a safe alternative pathway did not exist.
All of this means that if the owner could expect that an obvious danger posed a realistic threat, the jury in a premises liability case can still hold the owner liable, even if the visitor was partly to blame.
If you were hurt on someone else’s property, Largey Law Firm’s experienced lawyers are ready to devote their skill and knowledge to winning you the compensation you deserve. We have offices in Tavares, Inverness and Clermont, Florida. Contact us online for a free consultation. Se habla español.