Falls are the leading cause of preventable injuries in the United States. According to data from the National Safety Council (NSC), falls account for about a third of the more than 20 million preventable nonfatal injuries in the U.S. each year.
Due to the prevalence of preventable falls, personal injury claims involving fall-related injuries are also extremely common. In Florida (as in other states), these claims are governed by the law of premises liability. Premises liability law holds property owners and tenants liable for preventable falls in many cases, and when fall victims have claims against property owners and tenants in Florida, they can seek just compensation for all of their injury-related losses.
Do you have questions about seeking financial compensation for injuries you (or a loved one) sustained in a fall? If so, here is an overview of what you need to know about Florida’s premises liability laws:
Establishing a Property Owner’s or Tenant’s Liability for a Fall in Florida
Property owners’ and tenants’ liability for falls is based on their duty of care. In Florida, property owners and tenants owe varying duties of care under differing circumstances. Broadly speaking, fall-related premises liability cases fall into three categories:
- Cases Involving “Invitees” – When a person is patronizing a business or visiting a public place, the person is considered an “invitee.” Under Florida law, property owners and tenants owe invitees the highest duty of care. Property owners and tenants must take proactive steps to protect invitees from falls caused by dangerous property conditions. This means that they must inspect their premises regularly and either fix fall hazards or place warning signs that are adequate to inform invitees to steer clear.
- Cases Involving “Licensees” – When a person is visiting someone else’s house with permission or visiting a business for their purposes (i.e., to use the bathroom), the person is considered a “licensee.” Under Florida law, property owners’ and tenants’ duty of care varies depending on whether a licensee is invited or uninvited. Property owners and tenants owe the same duty of care to invited licensees that they owe to invitees. If a licensee is uninvited, then the property owner or tenant owes the limited duty of care that applies in cases involving trespassers.
- Cases Involving “Trespassers” – When a person is on private or public property without authorization, the person is considered a “trespasser.” Under Florida’s premises liability laws, property owners and tenants owe the lowest duty to trespassers. Generally speaking, a trespasser can only file a claim to recover compensation for fall-related injuries when his or her fall resulted from willful or wanton conduct.
There are some exceptions. For example, property owners and tenants typically cannot be held liable when an invitee could have identified and avoided a fall risk by exercising reasonable care. Additionally, if a property owner or tenant discovers a trespasser and then authorizes the trespasser to remain on the premises, the trespasser’s status may transform into that of an invited licensee.
Many falls occur in businesses, and these cases frequently involve spills. Florida has enacted a law that specifically addresses this scenario. Under Section 768.0755 of the Florida Statutes,
“If a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it. Constructive knowledge may be proven by circumstantial evidence showing that:
“(a) The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition; or
“(b) The condition occurred regularly and was therefore foreseeable.”
As discussed above, the concept of “constructive knowledge” addresses the duty to inspect cases involving invitees. Even if a business does not have actual knowledge of a spill (or “transitory foreign substance”), it can still be held liable for failing to clean up the spill if it should have known about the spill through the exercise of reasonable diligence.
Florida’s Statute of Limitations for Premises Liability Claims
When you suffer injuries in a fall on someone else’s property in Florida, you do not have an indefinite amount of time to assert your legal rights. Premises liability claims – like all personal injury claims – are subject to a statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations for premises liability claims in Florida is four years. If you are injured in a fall on someone else’s property, you must file a lawsuit in court four years from the accident date. If you wait even a day longer, you could lose your legal rights entirely.
But, while you have up to four years to file a lawsuit, you do not want to wait anywhere near this long to assert your legal rights. Even waiting a few days can make it much more difficult to recover the financial compensation you deserve. Once evidence of the property owner’s or tenant’s liability disappears (i.e., the property owner or tenant fixes the hazard that caused your fall), you may not be able to pursue a successful claim even if you still have plenty of time to file.
Proving that Your (or Your Loved One’s) Injuries are Fall-Related
Considering these considerations, it is strongly in your best interests to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible after suffering injuries in a fall. When you hire a lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will conduct an investigation focused on collecting any evidence of the property owner’s or tenant’s liability. Depending on the circumstances, this could include evidence such as:
- Photos or videos from the accident scene
- Surveillance camera footage
- Eyewitness statements
- Emails or text messages discussing the property hazard or the accident
- Property maintenance records
In addition to evidence of liability, you also need evidence that you were injured in the fall. Property owners, tenants, and insurance companies routinely defend against premises liability claims by arguing that victims cannot link their injuries to the accident. To document the cause of your injuries, you should see a doctor as soon as possible (if you haven’t already). If you aren’t sure where you can go to get care immediately, you should contact a local law firm for a referral.
5 Common Fall Accident Scenarios in Florida
While falls can happen anywhere and anytime, some scenarios are particularly common. Here is some additional information about pursuing a premises liability claim in five common fall accident scenarios in Florida:
What if I Fell at an Amusement Park, Marina, or Entertainment Venue?
As one of the world’s entertainment capitals, Florida is home to numerous amusement parks, marinas, and other venues. You should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights if you fell at one of these venues because of a spill, inadequate maintenance, or any other issue within the business’s control.
What if I Fell at a Neighbor’s or Family Member’s House?
If you fell at a neighbor’s or family member’s house and the accident was your neighbor’s or family member’s fault, you may have a claim for financial compensation. Fortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies cover premises liability claims, so you shouldn’t have to file a claim against your neighbor or family member directly. More likely than not, your neighbor or family member will want you to take advantage of the coverage he or she has available.
What if I Fell at Work?
If you fell at work, your legal rights depend on why. You might qualify for workers’ compensation benefits even if your fall was your fault. If your fall was someone else’s fault, you might have a premises liability claim. Or, if you fell from a defective ladder or scaffolding (or if your accident involved defective safety equipment or any other type of defective product), you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
What if My Child was Injured in a Fall?
If your child was injured in a fall in Florida, your family might be entitled to financial compensation. Parents can pursue claims for child injuries under a broad range of circumstances. Accidents at schools, playgrounds, amusement parks, and swimming pools are common causes of fall-related child injuries. Parents can seek to recover their family’s medical expenses and other losses.
What if My Aging Parent was Injured in a Fall?
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. As our bodies age, we become more susceptible to falling, and we face greater injury risks when we fall. If your aging parent was injured in a fall at a nursing home, long-term care facility, or elsewhere, you should contact a lawyer to discuss your family’s options.
How to Protect Your Rights Under Florida’s Premises Liability Laws
Regardless of what happened, if you think that you or your family may have a premises liability claim, there are some steps you should take right away. To protect your rights under Florida’s premises liability laws, you should:
1. Seek Immediate Treatment
As discussed above, seeking treatment promptly is important for linking your (or your loved one’s) injuries to the fall. If you aren’t sure where to go for treatment, we can help you.
2. Preserve All Evidence
Preserve any evidence you have in your possession. This includes photos or videos you took with your phone, any damaged clothing or personal items, your copy of the incident report (if you reported the fall), and any medical records or scans related to the accident.
3. Take Detailed Notes
It would help if you wrote down everything you remember about the accident as soon as possible. Do not leave out any details, even if they seem unimportant. Your lawyer can decide what is relevant and use this information to help build your claim.
4. Avoid Discussing the Accident In-Person or Online
For now, you should keep the details of the accident to yourself. Avoid discussing the accident with neighbors, family members, friends, or insurance adjusters, and do not post anything about the accident online.
5. Consult with a Premises Liability Lawyer
If you have a claim, it will be important for you to get help from a lawyer right away. With this in mind, you should promptly schedule a free consultation with a local premises liability lawyer.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Coral Gables Premises Liability Lawyer
Our lawyers have decades of experience helping fall victims and families in Florida recover just compensation. We encourage you to contact us if you have questions about your legal rights. To speak with an experienced Coral Gables premises liability lawyer in confidence as soon as possible, call 305-445-0011 or request a free consultation online.