Hidden Dangers on Florida Property

When you visit someone else’s property, you assume it will be up to code, and that there will be no hidden dangers. If you are injured in a Jacksonville slip and fall accident as a business invitee, you may be able to bring a premises liability lawsuit to recover damages. In some cases, property owners raise the defense that the danger was not hidden, but “open and obvious.” In a recent premises liability case in Florida, one of the plaintiffs fell and was hurt while visiting the defendant’s housing development. She was leaving a model home for the first time and didn’t see the step down from a raised front porch onto the walkway.

The plaintiffs claimed the defendant had created a dangerous condition because the same brick pavers covered both the porch and walkway so that they blended into each other. The plaintiffs argued that this breached the duty to warn and the duty to keep the premises reasonably safe. Before trial, she testified she was looking ahead when she left the house, but it seemed like a single level.

The defendant made a motion for summary judgment. It argued that no competent evidence had been submitted regarding the dangerous condition serving as optical illusion. It submitted a verified expert report whose opinion was that the way the step was configured wasn’t an unusual design. The landing was up to code.

The plaintiffs submitted two expert affidavits from a licensed Florida building inspector. The expert stated that the failure to provide a landing suitable with the Florida Building Code had hidden the step’s existence. The expert’s opinion was that the walkway would have needed to be removed when the complex was changed to a single family occupancy.

The court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the danger was an open and obvious condition that wasn’t inherently hazardous. It also found the code violation didn’t contribute to the fall.

The appellate court explained that two duties are owed to invitees by property owners. First, property owners should warn of hidden dangers about which they know or should know, and the invitee doesn’t and could not find by using due care. Second, property owners should use ordinary care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.

Changes in floor levels don’t usually create a dangerous condition. However, when the construction design or mode creates a hidden danger that a reasonable invitee wouldn’t anticipate can change several floor levels into an inherently dangerous condition.

The appellate court concluded there was material factual issue about whether the defendant had generated a concealed danger that a prudent invitee wouldn’t expect through its uncommon mode of construction or design. The lower court, through its trier of fact, would need to figure out whether the walkway complied with the Florida Building Code and whether it hid the step’s location and presence. The appellate court reversed the summary judgment and sent the case back for additional proceedings.

If you were injured as a visitor to someone else’s property in Jacksonville, you should consult experienced slip and fall attorney Kevin Cobbin. Our firm represents people throughout Duval County and the surrounding areas. Call him at (904) 357-8448 or complete our online form.

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