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Public vs. Private Property: Are There Different Premises Liability Rules?

10/22/2021
Blog
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The short answer is “no.” There is little, if any, difference between premises liability on public and private property. As explained below, premises liability cases change according to the type of visitor on the premises rather than the type of property.

Premises liability accidents in Florida are numerous and potentially severe. They are challenging because they are heavily fact-dependent, quite complicated and can also involve injuries to victims that are extremely serious. 

Premises liability claims are brought when a person enters onto another person’s property and is injured by some type of unsafe condition on the premises. The most common types of claims involve slip and fall accidents, although there are many other types. 

A Florida accident lawyer at Searcy Denney understands the laws surrounding any type of premises liability accident and can help you with any of your insurance or legal claims.

How Visitor Status Affects Public vs. Private Premises Liability

As a starting point, premises liability law depends on the status of the injured visitor. In other words, what was the visitor doing on the property in question? Why were they there? There are three main categories of visitors in Florida, but breaking those categories of visitors down a bit more specifically leads us to the specific issue of public vs. private premises liability rules.

What Are the Three Main Categories of Visitors in Florida?

The three primary categories of visitors in Florida are:

  1. Invitees. Invitees are visitors who are invited onto the property, either for pleasure or business on public and private land. They receive the highest level of protection and are owed the most stringent duty of care by the property owner.
  2. Licensees. Licensees enter the property either with permission or of their own volition.
  3. Trespassers. Trespassers are not invited onto the property and have not been permitted to enter the property. Therefore, they receive the lowest level of protection and are owed the least stringent duty of care by the property owner.

What Are the Sub-Categories and How Do They Affect Public vs. Private Premises Liability Law?

The various subcategories of visitors can reasonably be broken down as follows.

Public Invitees

A public invitee is invited to enter or remain on the property as a member of the public for the purpose of public enjoyment. A good example is a public park since the land’s express purpose is for public entertainment.

Business Invitees

A business invitee is someone who is invited to enter or remain on the property for a specific purpose that is directly or indirectly connected to business with the landowner.

Duty Owed to Invitees

According to Knight v. Waltman, 774 So.2d (Fla. 2007), the duty of care owed to both public invitees and business invitees is the same: 

  • Maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition
  • Warn invitees of any dangerous condition they are aware of or should have been aware of, which is not obvious and therefore cannot be expected to be aware of by an invitee who exercises reasonable care

Invited Licensees

An invited licensee is a person who has been invited onto the premises of the property owner but not related to business, such as social guests. Invited licensees are owed the same duty of care that invitees are owed.

Uninvited Licensees

An uninvited licensee is a person who enters the property of their own volition for their own purposes or even convenience and was not expressly or impliedly invited. For example, a person visits a gas station just to use the bathroom rather than purchase anything. Nevertheless, the gas station owner/manager allows the person to enter, even though they have not been invited, and does nothing to benefit the gas station.

Duty Owed to Licensees

Invited licensees are owed the same duty of care that invitees are owed. According to Stewart v. Texas Co., 67 So. 2d 653, 654 (Fla. 1953), uninvited licensees owe a lower duty of care that consists merely of refraining from willful and wanton injury or harm, such as setting traps.

Note that active vigilance is not required. 

Duty Owed to Trespassers

According to Post v. Lunney, 261 So. 2d 146, 147 (Fla. 1972), a trespasser is someone “… who enters the premises of another without license, invitation, or other right [sic], and intrudes for some definite purpose of his own, or at his own convenience, or merely as an idler with no apparent purpose, other than perhaps to satisfy his curiosity.”

Trespassers are not invited nor given any permission to be on the property. They usually enter the property without the property owner’s knowledge and/or have entered it even after being discovered.

Property owners are assumed to be unaware of the presence of a trespasser and therefore only owe a duty of care consisting of refraining from willful and wanton harm, such as setting traps. Nonetheless, this duty may differ significantly for child trespassers, who are afforded more protection if the property owner knows of the child’s presence or knows that their property tends to attract children under the attractive nuisance doctrine.

If You’ve Been Injured on Someone Else’s Property in Florida, Contact a Florida Accident Lawyer For Assistance

As a side note, there are other procedural differences between bringing a claim against a private property owner, which is very similar to any type of personal injury claim, versus bringing a claim against a public governmental agency, which generally imposes various additional procedures. 

Nonetheless, if you or a loved one have been injured or even killed in an accident on another’s property caused by unsafe conditions, a Florida accident lawyer at Searcy Denney understands all of the nuances of a premises liability claim, no matter how the visitor is classified. Do not hesitate to contact us today to schedule your free consultation. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no risk for you.

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