Are There Different Premises Liability Rules for Public Versus Private Properties?
Everyday in America, people get hurt while visiting places outside of their own home. In fact, it could be said that Florida has a particularly high number of public places where injuries can occur, as there are hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms, resorts of all sizes, world-class theme parks, and businesses of every type imaginable. Add to that the fact that our Sunshine State sees over 120 million visitors every year, and you can see the potential for landowners in Florida to be subject to premises liability lawsuits.
So how does premises liability law work in Florida, and does it vary according to whether the property in question is a public property or a private one? Well, the short answer is that premises liability law depends greatly on the actual status of the visitor onto the landowner’s property. So we will begin this discussion by addressing the issue of visitor status and how that relates to premises liability. And while making these distinctions, we will also take a look at the differences between public and private property.
Visitor Status and Premises Liability
When someone gets hurt on someone else’s property, the first question that Florida courts ask is, “What type of visitor got hurt?” In other words, what was the visitor doing at the establishment wherein they got hurt? Why were they there?
Essentially, there are three types of visitor statuses in premises liability law. However, in this article, we are going to divide up these three types even further as follows.
This is the first of the three broad categories that a visitor will fall under when filing a premises liability lawsuit against a landowner. This is the category of visitor that the law grants the highest level of protection to, and as such, these are the people to which landowners owe the highest duty of care. Invitees are people who are invited onto the property owner’s land, usually for some type of business interaction, and they can be further broken down into two subcategories: public invitees and business invitees.
A public invitee is defined by law as “someone who is invited to enter or remain on the land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.” For instance, people who spend the day at a public park would be considered public invitees as the land is held open to the public for their enjoyment. The invitee is not there to enhance the business or property owner’s financial interests, but they are there to enjoy the park, which is open to the public.
Similarly, people who visit a hospital to see friends or family would be considered public invitees. Please notice that patients would not be considered public invitees (as we will discuss below), but their visitors would. The hospital opens its doors to the public so that the sick can receive visitors, but entertaining visitors is not the business purpose for which the hospital exists.
A business invitee, on the other hand, is someone who is invited to enter the property specifically for reasons related to the landowner’s business dealings. For instance, a family who visits a theme park is a business invitee for the same reasons – they are there to further the business interests of the owners and operators of the attraction. Similarly, a grocery store is open to the public for the express purpose of selling groceries to its customers. The customers who purchase items from the store are considered business invitees since they are there specifically for the business interests of the landowner.
However, a person who walks into that same grocery store just to use the bathroom and not to buy anything would be classified as a licensee as discussed below. The purpose of the visit is important here, because when you invite someone onto your property to benefit your business, you will owe them the highest duty of care that exists in premises liability law.
Duty Owed to Public and Business Invitees
A property owner owes the following duties of care to both public and business invitees:
- To maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition, and
- To warn invitees of any dangerous condition that they know or should have known about that is not obvious and cannot be expected to be known by an invitee who exercises reasonable care.
Licensees can also be broken down into two subcategories, and both are owed differing duties of care.
Invited licensees are people who have been invited onto the premises of the landowner, but not in any way that is related to business dealings. Social guests of residential landowners are the most common type of invited licensees. It is interesting to note that these individuals are given the same protections as those listed above for business and public invitees. The property owner or possessor (in the case of rentals) owes their invited licensees a duty to keep the property in a safe condition and eliminate any dangers. But if there is any reason that the owner cannot make the property entirely safe, they owe their guests the duty of warning them about any potential hazards.
Uninvited licensees are people who enter the property for their own purposes or convenience, and who have no invitation under the circumstances – either express or implied. An example of an uninvited licensee would be the example we saw a bit earlier in this article: the person who goes into a grocery store not to buy anything, but just to use the bathroom. He is there for his own convenience, and the owner of the store allows him to enter – but he has not been expressly invited to come in, nor does his presence in any way enhance the business interests of the store owner.
Uninvited licensees are owed a lesser duty of care:
- To refrain from willful and wanton harm or injury, and
- To warn of any dangerous condition that is not obvious to the licensee.
Trespassers are those who are neither invited nor given any permission to be on the property. They are there usually without the knowledge of the property owner, and even if they are discovered, it is after they have already entered the property.
Landowners are allowed to assume that trespassers will not enter their property and, therefore, there is very little protection for them. The duty to refrain from willful and wanton harm is all that is owed to trespassers. And please note that this rule only applies to adult trespassers. Child trespassers are afforded a bit more protection if the landowner knows of the child’s presence, or knows that their property tends to attract children.
Contact an Experienced Premises Liability Attorney
So if you have been injured while on someone else’s property, it’s time to visit The Law Offices of David M. Benenfeld, P.A. You can call us directly, or contact us online today to schedule your free initial consultation.