What Type Of Legal Duty Does A Florida Property Owner Have For Injuries To Visitors?: Florida Premises Liability- Invitee, Licensee, & Trespasser Distinctions
Posted By Alan Sackrin on February 18, 2014
Last Update: 01/27/16
In Florida, the body of statutory law and court cases which creates legal liability for a property owner, liability which stems from the duties that a property owner owes to certain persons who have been hurt in an accident with serious injury or even death, is known as Florida’s Premises Liability law. These laws allow people who are hurt in grocery store slip and falls, in accidents at hotel pools, in restaurant parking lots, on amusement park rides, at casino parking garages, or any other business or commercial location in South Florida to look to the owner of these premises (or to the person or entity in control of the premises) to be legally responsible and compensate them for their injuries (pain and suffering, past and future lost wages, medical expenses and emotional damages).
However, owners and persons in control of business establishments are not always subject to the same level of liability under Florida premises liability law. Under Florida law, how much the owner will be held liable and required under premises liability law to compensate the victim for his or her damages will depend upon how the victim is legally classified in relation to their status on the property.
Trespassers upon Florida land do not have the same level of civil liability protection under Florida premises liability law as do those injury victims that are personally invited upon the property by the owner, i.e., “Invitees.” (A third category exists, which falls in between the maximum legal protection given to Invitees and the minimum protection given to Trespassers, otherwise known as “Licensees.”)
Thus, in order to determine whether or not the victim has a viable claim for damages against the property owner, and, if so, the amount of liability the owner has to the victim, depends, in part, upon the reason why the victim was on the premises at that time he or she was injured; what was the victim’s status — an “Invitee,” “Licensee,” or “Trespasser?”
In Florida, trespassers are those people who aren’t supposed to be on the property at the time that they are hurt. A Trespasser is someone “… who enters the premises of another without license, invitation, or other right, and intrudes for some definite purpose of his own, or at his own convenience, or merely as an idler with no apparent purpose, other than perhaps to satisfy his curiosity.” Post v. Lunney, 261 So. 2d 146, 147 (Fla. 1972).
Florida Supreme Court defined Licensees in the case of Stewart v. Texas Co., 67 So. 2d 653, 654 (Fla. 1953):
Mere licensees are about the least favored in law of men who are not actual wrongdoers. It has been stated that an owner or occupant owes one whom he permits to enter for the latter’s convenience no duty except not to harm him willfully or wantonly, or to set traps for him, or to expose him to danger recklessly or wantonly. . . . No duty is imposed by law on an owner or occupant to keep the premises in a safe condition for those who come there solely for their own convenience or pleasure, and who are not either expressly invited to enter or induced to come thereon, although their entry is permitted by the owner or occupant. Active vigilance is not required on the part of the property owner to see that his premises are kept safe for the benefit of licensees . . . .
Florida injury victims invited to enter the property by the owner can be either “public invitees” or “business invitees.” As Invitees, visitors are granted the most legal protection under Florida premises liability law for injuries they sustain while on the site. As explained in Post v. Lunney, 261 So. 2d 146 (Fla. 1972):
- A Public Invitee is “… a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.”
- A Business Invitee is “… a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land.”
Is The Owner’s Duty Different for An Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser?
A property owner has the highest duty of protection and care to those he or she invites upon the property for either personal or business reasons. An owner must maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and if there are places which are not reasonably safe, then the owner must protect an Invitee by warning them of these dangers and correcting the dangers in a reasonably expedient manner.
Contrarily, those who enter a property without invitation as either a licensee or trespasser are not given much protection under Florida law. In fact, Trespassers receive little, if any, protection under Florida premises liability law. However, there are some exceptions (besides the attractive nuisance doctrine, see below): For example, Trespassers can be awarded civil damages for harm sustained by traps intentionally set by the property owner.
What Is The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine?
The attractive nuisance doctrine is a body of law established by both Florida statutes and Florida court opinions. Under this doctrine, when the injury victim is a child there are special legal duties that apply to a Florida property owner which allow a minor child Trespasser to hold the property owner responsible for his or her injuries.
Under the Florida Attractive Nuisance Doctrine, liability is imposed upon the property owner if there was something on the property that could be seen as attracting or enticing to a child’s curiosity. Things like swimming pools and hot tubs are obvious “attractive nuisances” in Florida. Others might include an empty refrigerator or other air-tight appliance that has not had its doors removed. See, Cockerham v. Vaughan, 82 So.2d 890 (Fla. 1955); Florida Statute 823.08.
What Should You Do Now?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed on owned property, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
- Settling A Florida Personal Injury Claim Without A Lawyer
- What Happens When Someone Is Injured At A Business or Commercial Location?: Florida Premises Liability Law
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.