Imagine being robbed at gunpoint when walking from a hotel parking lot to the lobby. Then imagine finding out that several other patrons had been robbed there in the past. Generally speaking, premises owners owe a duty to visitors and customers that are on the property. The exact scope of that duty depends on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.
The first step in evaluating a premises liability case is to determine the status of the plaintiff on the property. Depending on the category of visitor, the duty of care owed by the premises owner is different:
Public and Business Invitees, or Licensees by Invitation:
The owner has a duty to correct or warn them about dangers that the owner knew or should have known about, or dangers that are not reasonably discoverable.
The owner has a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonable safe condition, which includes the duty to protect visitors from third-party crimes.
Uninvited Licensees or Trespassers:
The owner has a duty to refrain from willful or wanton injury.
The owner has no duty to protect these persons from third-party crimes.
Generally customers entering a business fall under the first category, and are owed the highest duty of care. Property owners may be held liable for crimes committed on the property if the crime was “foreseeable” and could have been prevented by the property owner through reasonable precautions. Reasonable precautions could include proper lighting for an alley or side area where there have been prior robberies.
Florida’s appellate courts are split in the way they approach foreseeability. Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that prior crimes can help demonstrate that the crime is foreseeable. Some courts define prior crimes more narrowly than others, making foreseeability difficult to prove. In some jurisdictions, plaintiffs must show the geographical proximity, temporal proximity, and similarity of prior crimes. Most courts would not consider a minor property crime like vandalism to be a similar prior crime when a person has been seriously assaulted or murdered.
Posted in Personal Injury