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Florida landowner's duty of care depends on type of entrant

Contrary to what many people think, the mere fact that an accident occurs on someone else's property does not make the property owner liable. For the owner or possessor of land to be held liable for an injury on the land, Florida law requires proof that the owner or possessor violated a duty of care he or she owed to the injured person. What that duty of care consists of depends on the reason the injured person was on the premises in the first place.

Florida premises liability law divides those entering the land of another into three broad categories: invitees, licensees and trespassers. Invitees get the highest level of care. An invitee can be a public invitee, meaning the land is open to the public and the person was invited to enter the land; or a business invitee, meaning the person was invited onto the premises for reasons connected to the business dealings of the landowner. A customer in a store would ordinarily be a business invitee. A property owner or possessor owes invitees a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of any hazards the owner or possessor knows or should know about.

Licensees are divided into two sub-classes in Florida: invited licensees, a category which includes social guests; and uninvited licensees, who are on the premises with permission but without a formal or implied invitation. Invited licensees are entitled to the same duty of care as invitees. Uninvited licensees, however, are legally protected only from willful or wanton injury, or a failure to warn of known hazardous conditions, by the owner or possessor. The duty of care owed to trespassers is generally the same as that owed to uninvited licensees.

Some other states have abolished these distinctions among entrants on land for purposes of determining a landowner's duty of care. Florida has not done so, although the Florida Supreme Court has largely merged the concepts of invitees and invited licensees, and has left little distinction between uninvited licensees and trespassers.

Source: Florida Bar Journal, "Premises Liability: A Notable Rift in the Law of Foreseeable Crimes," Wilton H. Strickland, Dec. 2009

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