Who is responsible for my slip and fall? The business owner or the property owner?
A slip and fall incident is a type of injury that can occur because of negligent property maintenance. These injuries collectively fall under the umbrella of premises liability, which refers to cases where the person responsible for maintaining the property is responsible (liable) for the injury happening.
But who is responsible for what when it comes to keeping a property safe? When the property is owned and occupied by the same person, this question can be easy to answer. However, there are many situations where the person who owns the property and the person occupying the property are not the same. This situation is especially common in businesses, where a commercial property owner rents out a unit to the business, sometimes for decades at a time.
Slip and fall cases happening on commercial properties and other public spaces can be complicated, to say the least. Darrigo & Diaz can assist you with investigating your fall, researching applicable laws, and helping you to hold all responsible parties accountable for your damages. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a Tampa slip and fall injury lawyer today when you call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online.
What Is Required to Prove Negligence in a Premises Liability Case?
The central question in most premises liability cases is this: was the alleged at-fault party negligent?
Negligence is a legal doctrine that generally speaking, seeks to establish four main provings:
- The alleged at-fault party had a duty of care to keep the injury victim (plaintiff) safe
- The alleged at-fault party breached their duty of care by failing to satisfy all of their responsibilities
- The breach in duty of care was the direct cause (proximate cause) of an injury-causing accident
- The injury led to damages experienced by the plaintiff
Looking at a slip and fall case through this lens, the question comes up: who owes a duty of care to keep business customers reasonably safe from injury on the property?
The truth is that business owners and property owners both have responsibilities to maintain the property and prevent foreseeable injuries. In many cases, a third-party services provider, such as a lawn maintenance company, is also responsible for keeping property visitors safe to a certain degree.
Florida’s premises liability laws recognize that the various parties involved in a property’s use will have different duties and capabilities to prevent injury. To help you understand what situations would make certain parties the most-likely at-fault party, we will examine each of the main possibilities below.
Property Owner Responsibilities Under Premises Liability Law
Generally speaking, a property owner is responsible for the structural integrity of a building and the property surrounding it. These responsibilities may mean that the owner of the property must provide safe premises for the occupying business tenant and the general public that visits the business.
Common elements understood to be under the responsibility of the property owner include:
- The roof
- The building’s walls and exterior fixtures
- The parking lot
- Under flooring and foundations
- Any infrastructure that has not been regularly modified or directly accessed by the tenant
Speaking even more broadly, the property owner is typically responsible for making sure the building itself is safe for the tenant to use. They have an expectation to comply with building safety codes and conduct regular inspections and maintenance projects, to the degree it is reasonable to expect them to do so.
Under these expectations, a property owner may be considered at fault in the following types of accidents:
- Uneven parking lot pavement and poor lighting leads to a customer falling while walking back to their car
- An overhanging roof collapses, injuring a business customer
- Pipes running through the roof of the building leak, leading to a puddle on the floor that causes a slip and fall
Looking at the last hypothetical case in particular, however, we must remember that property owners cannot reasonably be expected to immediately know when a defect has arisen that could lead to harm. A case before Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals (Bovis v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 505 So. 2d 661 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 1987) found that the tenant of the building failed to immediately warn the leasing building owner about a leaking roof. Because the tenant failed to notify and the tenant had knowledge that the defect led to a recurring hazardous condition, the court reversed an earlier decision that held the leasing party liable for a slip and fall injury.
When an Occupying Business Tenant May Be Liable for a Slip and Fall
The occupant of a commercial property has a more-direct duty to protect their customers (invitees) from foreseeable harm. Unlike the property owner, employees of the business are on the property every day. They are responsible for keeping these spaces clear of hazards to the degree reasonably possible. This duty encompasses an expectation that the business occupant will sweep the property, clear hazards from walking spaces, and generally take precautions to avoid slip and fall accidents.
As mentioned in the appeals case above, the occupying tenant also has a duty to immediately inform the building owner when a defect or other condition arises that could pose foreseeable harm to customers, employees, and other invitees.
The business occupant is also likely to be considered responsible for any fixtures, modifications, or structures they directly use and access. For example, if a grocery store installs produce shelving and a misting system for keeping produce moist, then they are the ones primarily responsible for keeping the system in working order to prevent leaks and other hazards. If the store also contracts out tile renovations to replace the flooring, the contractor they work with and the store itself are responsible for ensuring the new flooring meets safety needs.
Under these responsibilities, an occupying business tenant may be responsible for an injury in the following scenarios:
- An employee forgets to put out a sign warning about a floor covered in a slippery substance, leading to a slip and fall
- A display of soda can packs collapses, causing a head injury to a customer
- A store fails to post warnings about a hidden step, or they fail to notify the building owner in a timely manner so the owner can pay for visibility tape and signage
Third-Party Liability for Slip and Fall Injuries
There are also a number of situations where the responsible party is a third party that is not the person renting the space (lessee) nor the building’s owner (lessor).
- A lawn maintenance crew that leaves a hose across a pedestrian path
- A remodeling crew that fails to contain gravel and other debris from walking paths or warn people about it
- A third-party custodial crew uses a slippery floor polish during public access hours without warning customers or attempting to cordon off the area
Determine Who Is At Fault for Your Slip and Fall With a Tampa Premises Liability Lawyer
Darrigo & Diaz is familiar with slip and fall cases and other major injury accidents that can occur on publicly accessible property. We know how complicated these types of cases can be, and we also know how hard property owners and others will fight to avoid paying for damages. Let us help you fight back. We will assert your rights to seek maximum damages from all responsible parties. By rigorously investigating your case, researching the law, and looking to other cases similar to yours, we will pursue every possible at-fault party to seek an outcome that leaves you whole again.
Find out more about who could be at fault and what you can do to prove your case during a free, no-obligation case review. Call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation now.