According to the Insurance Information Institute, homeowners’ and renters’ insurance premiums in Florida rank second-highest in the nation at $1,960 annually, but a lot of this is due to hurricanes and natural disasters. Liability for personal injury and medical care accounts for less than 10% of all claims.
This information is important because of the widespread fear and belief that if you’re injured on a neighbor’s property, you’ll have to sue to receive compensation for your injuries and medical care. In reality, this is all normally covered under the liability protection of the neighbor’s homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy.
If you find yourself in the “I don’t want to sue my neighbor” dilemma because something happened to you or a loved one on a neighbor’s property, rest assured that matters usually don’t reach the courtroom. Instead, it will be the insurers who will handle your claim.
That too can be a dilemma, however, as insurance adjusters will try to low-ball you or claim it was your fault, so they owe you nothing or next to it.
If you find yourself in this situation in or around Jacksonville or Jacksonville Beach, Florida, contact me at the Glober Law Firm. I will listen to your story, investigate, establish liability, and negotiate with the insurance people, so you can receive the compensation you deserve.
Premises Liability in Florida
Florida’s premises liability law requires homeowners, private property owners, and commercial property owners to maintain environments free of known hazards. They have what is called a “duty of care” to keep their premises in a “reasonably” safe condition. If they fail to do so, they can be held liable for any injuries suffered on their property because of their negligence in either not removing the hazard or in not warning visitors of its presence.
Liability for personal injury is dependent on the category of the person entering the premises: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
Invitees are generally limited to persons visiting a store or business, or guests visiting a home, or even repairmen coming to a home to do maintenance work. Invitations can be express or implied. By law, invitees are owed the highest standard of care. If an invitee is injured because of an unreasonably dangerous condition on the premises that the owner knew about or should have known about, the owner can be liable for the invitee's injuries. Owners also have a duty to warn invitees of dangerous conditions on the premises unless they are open and obvious.
Licensees include people who are lawfully on the premises but without explicit or implied invitation. For instance, they include people who go into stores to use a public restroom without intending to purchase anything in the store. Licensees are owed the second-highest level of care. Owners must keep their property in a “reasonably” safe condition and also warn of any known dangers.
Trespassers are divided into two categories in Florida, discovered and undiscovered. "To avoid liability to undiscovered trespassers, [an owner]...must refrain from intentional misconduct that proximately causes injury to the undiscovered trespasser, but has no duty to warn of dangerous conditions. To avoid liability to discovered trespassers, [an owner]... must refrain from gross negligence or intentional misconduct that proximately causes injury to the discovered trespasser, and must warn the trespasser of dangerous conditions that are known to the person or organization owning or controlling an interest in real property but that are not readily observable by others."§ 768.075, Fla. Stat. Ann.
“Foreseeability” Under Florida Liability Law
Florida’s foreseeability doctrine holds that, if danger or risk of injury is not foreseeable, then the property owner has no legal duty owed to someone who gets injured on their property. This relates to “should have known” under the traditional invitee standard of liability. If the danger were not foreseeable, then the owner cannot be held to the standard of “should have known” in Florida.
However, if a danger or source of injury is foreseeable, then the property owner has created what has been defined as a “foreseeable zone of risk.” The Florida Supreme Court has ruled: “Where a defendant’s conduct creates a foreseeable zone of risk, the law generally will recognize a duty placed upon defendant either to lessen the risk or see that sufficient precautions are taken to protect others from the harm that the risk poses.”
The issue of foreseeability can obviously be a contentious one when a personal injury claim has been filed.
Insurance Claims and Settlements
The first step in recovering damages for an injury suffered on a neighbor’s or another person’s property is to file a claim with their insurance carrier. If they lack insurance, the first step would be to approach them to try to negotiate.
In both instances, it is not advisable to try negotiating with insurers or neighbors by yourself unless the claim is so small that it can be easily handled — or if the uninsured neighbor is proactive and willing to settle on your terms.
Remember, in all claim situations, you must prove the property owner was negligent by failing to maintain a safe environment or warning you about known or suspected hazards.
This brings up the concept of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence means that both the property owner and the person injured on the property can potentially be held responsible. If you file a claim against a neighbor, the neighbor’s insurance provider may — and probably will — try to show that you were at least partially, if not fully, responsible for the injury.
Under Florida’s comparative negligence rule, if you’re deemed to have been 25% at fault and your damages total $10,000, you will receive just $7,500. Not only will insurance adjusters use this rule to try to lower your compensation, but if you end up taking the case to court, the judge or jury will also seek to assess your share of liability.
Work with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured on another’s property, whether a residential or business location, you have protections under Florida’s premises liability statute. You have the right to pursue fair compensation, but the insurers and property owner will no doubt seek ways to lower their liability. They may use tactics and terminology with which you’re unfamiliar in an attempt to low-ball or reject your claim. In all phases of your claim, you need the help of an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney.
I have helped many clients throughout Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville, and the entire state of Florida seek the compensation they deserve for personal injuries, whether through negotiations or legal action. Call me at the Glober Law Firm today for an initial consultation at no charge.