Second District Reverses in Florida Premises Liability Case

photo_35115_20141211-300x212Visitors to a Renaissance festival expect to see jousts and sword fights, but they don’t typically expect to be the one dealing with an inadvertent injury at the end of the festivities. However, injuries can happen in the most unexpected places, including as described in a recent decision from the Second District Court of Appeal, the parking lot outside a Renaissance festival. In that decision, Cook v. Bay Area Renaissance Festival of Largo, Inc., the Second District needed to determine whether a trial court erred in granting summary judgment in a trip and fall case.

As noted above, the plaintiff in this case was injured while navigating the parking lot of a local Renaissance festival. Festival volunteers had directed the plaintiff to park in the overflow parking lot. There was an unpaved walkway on a patch of municipality-owned land between the parking lot and the grounds where the festival was being held. Following the festival, the plaintiff was returning to the car when she tripped on an exposed pipe that was on the patch of municipal land. There was nothing obstructing the plaintiff’s view of the pipe. Indeed, the plaintiff’s husband and other festival attendees attempted to warn the plaintiff of the pipe before she tripped. A festival volunteer removed the pipe shortly after the fall. The plaintiff brought a premises liability suit, arguing that the festival was negligent in maintaining the property. The festival moved for summary judgment on her claim against them, arguing that there was not evidence that they had control over the land where the injury occurred. There was conflicting evidence, however, regarding whether festival volunteers had directed her to use the walkway. The trial court granted the festival’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Second District first concluded that there was an issue of material fact regarding the festival’s control over the premises that precluded granting summary judgment. The trial court seemed to work from the faulty assumption that one cannot exercise control over a property unless he or she owns it. However, the Second District noted that ownership is not a necessary condition for one to exercise sufficient control over premises for purposes of negligence liability. See Metsker v. Carefree/Scott Fetzer Co., 90 So. 3d 973, 977 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (noting that one “who assumes control over the premises in question, no matter under what guise, assumes . . . the duty to keep them in repair” (quoting Arias v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 426 So. 2d 1136, 1138 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983)). The Court of Appeals determined a question of material fact existed here, considering the undisputed evidence that the festival intended visitors to use the overflow lot, the conflicting testimony regarding whether the festival intended visitors to use the municipal walkway where the injury occurred, and the evidence showing that the pipe was removed by a festival volunteer, not an agent of the city. The festival argued, alternatively, that even if it had control, summary judgment was nonetheless proper because the exposed pipe was an open and obvious hazard, and thus there was no duty to warn the plaintiff of its presence. The Second District, however, noted that even if a hazard is open and obvious, one can still be held liable when he or she fails “to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injury” to invitees. Ashcroft v. Calder Race Course, Inc., 492 So. 2d 1309, 1312 (Fla. 1986). Given that this is typically a question left for a jury’s determination, the Second District found the festival’s argument unavailing and reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

Although trip and fall cases are considered ordinary among both practitioners and the public generally, even a relatively straightforward trip and fall case can have many unexpected quirks and, as demonstrated by this case, a trip to an appeals court. Accordingly, if you’ve been harmed in a possible case of negligence, you should considering finding competent counsel experienced with representing clients in your position. The South Florida premises liability attorneys at FK Legal have ample experience representing numerous South Floridians harmed as a result of slips and trips and can provide you with the zealous and experienced representation your case may require. Feel free to contact us for a free case evaluation if you’ve been harmed and would like to know more about the legal options you may have.

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