Premises Liability

Can a property owner avoid responsibility for my injuries by blaming the dangerous condition on an “independent contractor”? I was injured at an office building when I slipped in wet paint while descending one of the outdoor stairways. There were no posted warnings of the dangerous condition. The building’s owner refused to accept responsibility, blaming an “independent contractor” it hired to perform the job. The so-called independent contractor is an uninsured individual who does not have any money to pay my medical expenses and for other damages. Can the building owner so easily avoid responsibility? No. Property owners and managers have a nondelegable duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition. This means they cannot shirk responsibility to the injured party by blaming others. See this blog and Armiger v. Associated Outdoor Clubs Inc. (Fla. App., 2010 insight on this subject.

Do I have anyone to blame if I hurt myself in a dangerous condition that is open and obvious? It depends. Property owners try to avoid responsibility for accidents on their property by blaming the victim, claiming the dangerous could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable caution. If the condition was in fact open and obvious, the property owner (or manager) can sometimes avoid some, if not all, liability for the accident. Under the principle of Comparative Fault, Florida juries are instructed to apportion fault among the parties to a lawsuit, plaintiff and defendant, and other entities not involved in the case. (There are a number of reasons why an entity with some degree of fault may not be made a party to the lawsuit.) Florida no longer operates under the principle of Contributory Fault in personal injury case, which precluded the recovery of damages by any Plaintiff which had degree of fault, even as little as 1%. (Florida became a Comparative Fault in 1973.)

What duty does a owner owe to a patron? According to Delgado v. Laundromax, Inc., 65 So. 3d 1087, 1089 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), a business owner owes two duties to a business invitee: (1) to take ordinary and reasonable care to keep its premises reasonably safe for invitees; and (2) to warn of perils that were known or should have been known to the owner and of which the invitee could not discover.

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