What degree of care does an owner or occupant of a premises owe to an invitee?

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According to Florida case law as of the date of this article, an owner must use reasonable care in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and, the owner must warn the invitee of concealed perils which are or should be known to the owner, and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered by the invitee through the exercise of due care.

QUICK FACT: A victim of a property owner’s negligence has 4 years from the date of the incident to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, if a death resulted from the incident, the deadline to file a lawsuit is 2 years.

See: Ahl v. Stone Southwest, Inc., 666 So. 2d 922 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1995).

The Case of the Ladder in the Puddle

To be a “millwright,” someone has to demonstrate a specific kind of skill and expertise.  Millwrights are craftsman capable of meticulous work involving the installation or removal, as well as the repair or maintenance, of complex machinery found in certain types of factories or construction sites.

George Ahl was a millwright.  Mr. Ahl was hired to check out some machinery at Stone Southwest’s paper mill.  It was a maintenance job.  Officially, he was hired by Brown and Root but the job was on the Stone Southwest’s work site.

To get things ready for Mr. Ahl, workers at Stone Southwest watered down the machinery.  This was done to get the flammable dust off of the machines.

George Ahl arrived at the paper mill, looked around, and started to work on the machine assigned for maintenance.  Mr. Ahl noticed there was an inch or two of water, mixed together with grease and oil, on the floor.

Ahl reported the puddle to his supervisor.  Ahl was told that Stone Southwest knew about the puddle but couldn’t do anything about it.

Ahl knew paper mills can be wet and greasy.  He also knew that the mill employees wore special non-slip shoes because of slippery walking surfaces.

Stone Southwest was well aware that part of the mill floor next to the machines was wet and oily.  It was also aware that its mill employees would climb ladders as part of their daily routine.

Ahl went to work.  As he was working on the task of checking out the machine for upkeep and making any needed repairs, he needed to get up higher on the thing.

So, Ahl placed his ladder next to the machine.  The feet of the ladder were in the puddle.

As George Ahl carried a 35-pound bearing housing down the ladder, his left foot slipped and he fell off the ladder.

He hit some pipes and suffered a back injury.

Together with his wife Becky, George Ahl sued Stone Southwest for his accident damages.  His complaint stated that he was hurt while working on premises owned by Stone Southwest.  He claimed it was because of Stone Southwest’s negligence that he was injured.

Specifically, Stone Southwest was negligent and failed in its duty of care because it had kept the work site premises in a “negligent and dangerous condition.”  This involved the slippery puddle of water, grease, oil, and other slippery substances on the floor.  Stone Southwest knew Ahl would be working in this area, and did nothing.  Stone Southwest allowed the dangerous condition to continue after Stone Southwest had knowledge of its existence, and this was the negligence that resulted in Ahl’s back injury.

The trial judge signed a “summary judgment” for Stone Southwest, but the appeals court reversed his decision.

Read: How To Survive A Summary Judgment Hearing Related To Your Slip And Fall Claim

According to the reviewing court, since Ahl knew that the paper mill floors were often slippery, there was no duty to warn him about it.  But that was not Stone Southwest’s only duty insofar as the dangerous condition.

There are situations where the owner of the premises can, and should, foresee that the dangerous condition will cause harm to an invitee, even if the danger is known or obvious.  While the slick puddle was obviously a danger, and Ahl had knowledge of it, under the law Stone Southwest should have reasonably anticipated that Ahl could be injured.

The mill owner should have reasonably assumed that workers like George Ahl, who were required to get the plant in operating condition as soon as possible, would encounter the dangerous condition.

Independent Contractor

When an owner hires an independent contractor to perform work on its land, as a general rule it is not liable for injuries incurred by the independent contractor’s employee during the course of that work.  There are two exceptions exist to this general rule.

The owner will be liable for the accident claim if (1) it actively participates and controls the manner in which the work is performed, or if (2) the owner performs one or more specific acts of negligence.

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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.

 

 

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