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When someone enters a private property, they do so with a reasonable expectation of safety, which means a property owner (or non-owner resident), is responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment, known as "premises liability", for all visitors. For example, the pizza delivery person may sue you for injuries if he slips and falls on an oil slick in the driveway. However, if that same person happened to be intoxicated or otherwise acted somehow in an unsafe manner, then he may not have a valid claim.
The legal theory of premises liability holds property owners and residents liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. The types of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a public sidewalk to an injury suffered on an elevator accident.
LEGAL STATUS OF VISITOR: INVITEE, LICENSEE, OR TRESPASSER?
There are four types of persons generally considered a visitor of a property:
- An invitee is someone who is invited onto the property of another, such as customers in a store.
- A licensee enters property for his own purpose, and is there at the consent of the owner.
- A social guest is just that, a welcome visitor to the property.
- Lastly, a trespasser enters without invitation or right to do so.
In the case of licensees and trespassers, there is no implied promise that reasonable care has been made to assure the safety of the property.
CONDITION OF THE PROPERTY AND ACTIONS OF THE VISITOR
A uniform “standard of care” applies to both invitees and licensees. It requires the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of visitors, except for trespassers which are treated slightly different. The owner or occupier of property owes a legal obligation to all who enter their property -- tenants, shoppers, personal or business visitors -- to not expose that person to an unreasonable potential for harm due to the construction, design, or condition of the property.
Basically, owners have control over the safety of a premise and visitors do not.
Whether or not the “standard of care” has been met involves an examination of several factors, including:
- Circumstances under which the visitor entered the property;
- Use to which the property is put;
- Foreseeability of the accident or injury that occurred;
- Reasonableness of the owner/possessor's effort to repair a dangerous condition or warn visitors.
THE VISITOR MUST USE THE PROPERTY NORMALLY
The conduct of the injured party is where the second rule of premise liability comes into play. If a person is hurt while behaving in an unauthorized or dangerously careless way, the property owner or occupier is not liable. For example, if a guest climbs on a roof after instructed not to, in order to jump into a pool, and they slip when a roof tile breaks which results in an injury, the owner is not responsible.
WHAT ABOUT TRESPASSERS
Regarding trespassers, if the owner knows that trespassers will potentially enter the property; they have a duty to give reasonable warning to prevent injury. This applies specifically to artificial conditions created or maintained by the owner, such as an electric fence or guard dogs, knowing they are likely to cause serious injury or even death.
COMPARATIVE FAULT: WHEN BOTH PARTIES ARE AT FAULT
The visitor is partially responsible for an accident. What then? Visitors usually have an obligation to behave normally and exercise reasonable care for their personal safety. Where they failed to do so, the plaintiff's recovery will likely be reduced by his or her own negligence.
This is what most states call the "comparative fault" system in personal injury cases. This is when an injured person's legal damages are reduced by a percentage that is equivalent to their fault in the incident. Therefore, if the injured party were 25% liable for an accident, where damages totaled $20,000, they would only receive $15,000.
Personal Injury Attorney Steven L. Winig, Esq. is a member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, and is licensed to practice before all
Florida State Courts, as well as the United States District Courts for Southern and Middle Florida.
Winig Law routinely handles cases throughout Palm Beach County including West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Wellington,
Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Greenacres, Lake Worth, Royal Palm Beach and surrounding areas.
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'The Winig Law Firm, P.A.
1615 Forum Place, Suite 3A
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401
T: (561) 337-2997 | F: (561) 683-1559