Property owners have a legal obligation to maintain their premises in sensibly safe conditions in order not to injure those who enter the land. Invitees are individuals who enter the land for business purposes, such as customers, and they are owed the highest duty of care. Property owners have a duty to warn invitees of hidden hazards of which the property owner knows or should know and that are unknown to the invitee and would not be discovered through the invitee’s use of reasonable care.
In Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, the plaintiff filed a premises liability claim against a shopping center after suffering injuries in the parking lot. The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff arrived at the mall to go to the Family Dollar when she tripped and tumbled in the parking lot. The rows of parking spaces were divided by landscaped areas that had trees with re-bar tie-downs. As the plaintiff crossed the landscaped area, she fell over a steel re-bar that was sticking several inches out of the ground. The bar was not being used to secure any of the nearby trees or bushes. Due to the fall, the plaintiff sustained a knee injury.
The plaintiff subsequently filed a negligence claim against Family Dollar, the landowner, and the lessee. The claim alleged a failure to warn, failure to maintain the premises, and failure to correct a dangerous condition. Furthermore, the plaintiff stated that the defendants permitted the re-bar to stick out as a latent hazard in a path used by invitees to the store.
The trial court agreed with the defendant in granting their motion for summary judgment. The court relied on a previous decision, Wolf v. Sam’s East, Inc. In Wolf, the plaintiff fell over a tree root as he took a shortcut through a parking lot area that was landscaped. The court held that when an individual goes through a landscaping area that has trees, grass, mulch, and other such things, it is clear that the area is not supposed to be used as a pathway. As a result, individuals who trek through these areas do so at their own risk, especially when a concrete walkway is available.
On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal highlighted that evidence in the record showed that the space where the injured person fell had become a “well-trampled dirt footpath” used commonly by customers of the shopping center. In fact, there was even a trash can put along the path for use by the customers. The court distinguished this case from the precedent case by noting that that the landscaped area was in “continuous and obvious use as a pedestrian shortcut for some time.”
Ultimately, the court did not make a decision on whether or not the defendant was negligent, but it determined that there were authentic issues of material fact based on which the defendants could be liable. As a result, the court concluded that the case should proceed to trial in order for those facts to be reviewed.
At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our Miami premises liability attorneys can take the time to carefully analyze the facts of your case and determine the viability of your claim. Having helped many South Florida residents, we understand the nuances of personal injury law. To discuss your case in more detail, do not hesitate to contact us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online today.
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