When a parking lot trip-and-fall accident occurs in a landscaped area not intended for pedestrian foot traffic, can a property owner still be held liable?
According to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals: It depends.
In the recent case of Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, Inc., et al., the court ruled that previous precedent that answered, “No” to this question had not taken into account a situation wherein the landscaped area was well-worn from business invitees routinely using it as a walkway. The court reasoned that when an area displays this kind of condition, visitors may reason that this is an accepted shortcut. It also puts the property owner/ manager on notice that customers are using the area for this purpose, which heightens the responsibility to ensure it is reasonably safe.
A previous decision Wolf v. Sam’s East, Inc., rendered by the 4th DCA, was distinguishable and inapplicable to Grimes because Wolf involved a situation wherein a business invitee fell because he “was knowingly cutting through a landscaping area, rather than use the concrete walkways designed for that purpose.”
In another case, Dampier v. Morgan Tire & Auto, decided by the 5th DCA in 2012, it was held that a property owner has no duty to warn where the contents of a planting bed didn’t constitute a dangerous condition when used as a planting bed and not for walking. The 5th DCA also held in City of Melbourne v. Dunn that the city did not have a duty to make a planter safe for walking because it wasn’t foreseeable that it was going to be used for that function.
But all of these cases were different than the one at hand, the 3rd DCA ruled, because the “landscaped” areas referred to in these cases were parking lot features that weren’t designed for or used as walkways. In this case, photographic evidence showed that the footpath through this “landscaped” feature was heavily used by pedestrians. In fact, there was even a garbage can placed along this path for use by invitees. The court ruled that this raised issues of fact as to who had notice that this footpath was so heavily used by patrons that it required a garbage can.
According to court records in the premises liability lawsuit of Grimes, plaintiff walked through a commercial parking lot and across one of the landscaped areas that was directly across from a store (located in a shopping mall), which was her destination. As she crossed the landscaped area, she tripped and fell over a short, steel re-bar. That bar was sticking several inches out of the ground, and it wasn’t tied as a support to any of the nearby shrubs or trees. As a result of the fall, plaintiff injured her knee.
Plaintiff sued the store, the mall owner and the landscape company responsible for maintaining the parking lot.
Trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, citing the aforementioned cases. The 3rd DCA reversed after finding the cases were distinguishable. It did, however, affirm the summary judgment with regard to the store, finding it had no responsibility for the design or maintenance of the shared parking lot.
Now, the case will continue to the trial phase.
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Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, Inc., et al., May 4, 2016, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Maines v. Fox – Proving Causation of Injuries in Florida Accident Lawsuit, May 12, 2016, Orlando Trip-and-Fall Accident Lawyer