If you have been hurt on someone else’s property,, you might just think that it’s your bad luck – or that you should have been watching where you were going. In some cases, that may be true. In other situations, you may be able to hold the property owner liable through a premises liability claim.
The theory of premises liability law here in Florida is that property owners and people who control the access to property must keep it safe for visitors. Failing to uphold that duty makes the owner liable to anyone who suffered harm because of their failure.
Speak with a Wesley Chapel premises liability lawyer if you were hurt while on someone else’s property. One of the Wesley Chapel personal injury attorneys at Distasio Law Firm could investigate the incident to discover the party whose negligence caused the accident and hold them accountable for the harm you suffered. Reach out to our law offices today to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our legal team.
Liability Depends on Duty
When it comes to personal injury claims, an accident victim (plaintiff) typically has to prove that the at-fault party did something wrong. In many cases, this is a question of negligence or carelessness. In some situations, the claim may be based on a theory of intentional or reckless conduct. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the at-fault party (defendant) is liable for the accident.
Premises liability claims require proof that a property owner was somehow at fault for the accident or injury. While some states hold property owners liable for keeping their premises reasonably safe for all people. Florida follows a more traditional rule that applies varying standards of care depending on the relationship between the property owner and the injured person (claimant). An experienced Wesley Chapel premises liability attorney could explain the standard that might apply in your specific case.
Businesses and facilities open to the public have a duty to keep their premises safe for invitees. An invitee is a customer or patron of the business or facility. You could be an invitee even if you are browsing without immediate plans to buy or just accompanying someone else, such as a child on an outing with a parent.
A property or business owner or manager must take reasonable steps to ensure invitees’ safety, including regularly inspecting to identify hazards and repairing or warning of dangers not yet repaired. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances. For example, wiping up a spill on a floor should happen quickly. However, if an owner discovers an elevator needs servicing, it might take some time for an elevator repair company to come. In that case, a property owner must take the elevator out of service until it is fixed and post warning signs.
A licensee is someone visiting a property with permission but not for the property owner’s benefit. A social guest is a licensee, and a meter reader or similar worker might be a licensee. A property owner must warn licensees of hazards the owner is aware of but might not be obvious to someone unfamiliar with the property.
A property owner has no duty to inspect the premises to find hazards or repair them for the benefit of a licensee. In addition, an owner need not warn a licensee of an open and obvious danger.
For example, consider a situation where you are visiting a friend when you trip on a piece of broken tile on their floor and fall, suffering a broken bone in the process. Your friend’s liability for your injuries will depend on whether or not they knew of the hazard, and if the dangerous condition was obvious. You may be able to file a claim with their homeowner’s insurance company if the hazard was hidden and they knew about it but did not warn you.
However, Florida does make an exception for children in what is known as the attractive nuisance doctrine. If the property contains a feature attractive to children—such as a pool, trampoline, or shed—the owner must take steps to bar access to trespassing children. The parents of a trespassing child could hold a landowner responsible for injuries their child suffered while on a landowner’s property, even if the child was there without permission.
Trespassers enter property without permission, and Florida landowners have no duty towards them in most cases. However, if the property contains a feature attractive to children—such as a pool, trampoline, or shed—the owner must take steps to bar access to trespassing children. The parents of a trespassing child could hold a landowner responsible for injuries their child suffered while on a landowner’s property, even if the child was there without permission.
Incidents That Could Lead to Owner Liability
As an initial matter, it is important to understand that when we talk about the liability of property owners for unsafe conditions, it is not limited to owners. Anyone who occupies or is responsible for a property could also be held responsible for a premises liability claim. This includes tenants, property maintenance companies, and even government agencies.
Accidents like tripping on a loose carpet in a hotel or nearly drowning in a condo complex pool are obvious examples of premises liability. A well-practiced Wesley Chapel attorney like Scott Distasio represent clients who suffered injuries in various incidents resulting from property owner negligence, including:
- Exposure to a toxic substance
- Elevator and escalator accidents
- Fires and explosions
- Ceiling or roof collapses
- Criminal activity in a mall, office building, parking garage, or similar facility
- Accidents in parks, sports facilities, gyms, amusement parks, and other recreational facilities
Sometimes injured people assume they cannot sue a business owner because they signed a liability waiver. Although the courts in Florida do sometimes honor liability waivers, they do so only if the waiver meets specific, strictly enforced requirements. It is always worthwhile to consult a local legal professional about whether a specific liability waiver is enforceable in Wesley Chapel.
Compensation in a Wesley Chapel Premises Liability Case
To win a premises liability claim, you will need to prove that the at-fault party (defendant) leased, occupied, or otherwise had control over the property. You will also have to demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty of care to you and that they violated that duty of care in some way. Remember, a property owner’s duty of care will depend on whether you were an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser at the time of the accident.
Finally, you will have to show that you were injured as a result of the property owner’s negligence and that you suffered damages. If you can prove these elements, then you will be able to recover financial compensation for your injuries.
Damages in a premises liability case fall into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Economic and non-economic damages are considered compensatory damages because they compensate an accident victim for their injuries. Punitive damages penalize a wrongdoer who acted intentionally or recklessly.
Economic damages cover direct financial losses. It can include things such as medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, and property damage. It may even cover other costs, such as renovating your house to make it more accessible if you suffered a severe or catastrophic injury.
Non-economic damages pay for intangible losses. These damages can be harder to quantify, but they are no less important than economic damages. Examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, and disfigurement.
Punitive damages are available in more unusual cases where the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. In Florida, punitive damages are capped at the greater of $500,000 or three times compensatory damages in most circumstances. Your Wesley Chapel premises liability lawyer can advise you about whether you may be entitled to punitive damages based on the specific facts of your case.
If a loved one dies as a result of a slip-and-fall accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the property owner. Through this type of personal injury claim, you can recover financial compensation for the deceased person’s family as well as for the estate. This may include money for:
- Loss of support and services that the decedent provided to the family
- Mental pain and suffering
- Loss of the decedent’s protection and companionship
- Loss of parental companionship, guidance, and instruction
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings between the date of injury and death
- The value of the wages and benefits that the decedent could have earned
Seeking damages for a wrongful death in a premises liability claim won’t bring your loved one back or make you whole, but it can help ease the financial strain that many families experience in these situations.
Importantly, premises liability claims are typically paid out by an insurance company through a homeowner’s insurance policy, a renter’s insurance policy, or some type of commercial liability policy. This means that if you were hurt at a friend or family member’s house or business, you don’t have to worry that you will be hurting them financially by seeking compensation. The point of paying for insurance is to cover situations like this – and your loved one surely would not want you to go into debt or experience financial distress after getting hurt on their property.
Combatting Assertions of Comparative Fault
When you seek damages for injuries you suffered on a negligently maintained premises, lawyers for the property owners often try to limit their liability by asserting that your negligence contributed to the accident. Florida Statute §768.81 states that in a lawsuit seeking compensation, a negligent claimant could collect the portion of their damages attributable to the conduct of other parties. In practice, this law means that the more responsibility you have for the accident, the less the negligent landowner must pay in damages. It also means that if your fault is greater than 50% you will get no recovery at all.
For example, imagine a situation where you fell on a wet floor at the grocery store and suffered a knee injury in the fall. The insurance company and its attorneys might argue that because you were looking at your phone – and not paying attention – at the time, you were at least partially responsible. If their argument is successful, then your total recovery could be reduced by the percentage that you were “at fault.”
In a comparative fault case, a jury will assign a percentage of blame to the injury victim. This percentage will then be subtracted from the total recovery. If you had $50,000 in damages in your grocery store fall and were found to be 10% at fault, then your recovery would be reduced by 10%, or $5,000.
Defense attorneys often aggressively blame the victim for the accident, reducing the damages they must pay. A skilled premises liability lawyer in Wesley Chapel could counter the defense’s assertions with proof that the accident was likely regardless of your conduct because of the owner’s negligent failure to maintain a safe premises.
If you want to protect yourself against comparative negligence and similar arguments, you will need skilled legal representation. Our team of Wesley Chapel personal injury attorneys has substantial experience representing accident victims – and taking on big insurance companies. We won’t back down or accept a lowball settlement offer. When necessary, we will take your case to trial to ensure that you get maximum compensation for your injuries.
Personal injury lawyers typically work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you won’t pay any money upfront, and will only pay a fee if they recover money for you. In this way, you can still afford to hire an attorney even if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay a retainer or an hourly fee.
A Wesley Chapel Premises Liability Attorney Could Help You Hold a Negligent Landowner Accountable
Property owners have a responsibility to provide safe premises for visitors. When they fail in that responsibility and you suffer an injury, you could hold them accountable for your losses. Through this type of claim, you can recover financial compensation for all of your losses, from medical bills to lost wages to emotional distress.
A Wesley Chapel premises liability lawyer could ensure that the responsible party pays for its failure to protect you. Call today to work with one of the accident attorneys at Distasio Law Firm.
With offices in Tampa, Largo, and Wesley Chapel, the Distasio Law Firm advocates for clients throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a Wesley Chapel premises liability attorney, give our law offices a call at 813-548-4156 or fill out our online contact form.