Premises Liability and “Obvious Danger” – Wolf v. Sam’s East

Premises liability is the legal theory under which a property owner may be held liable for damages caused to visitors and others who are injured by the owner’s failure to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. In Wolf v. Sam’s East, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains that an owner’s duty to maintain the premises has it limits, however.

Mr. Wolf was injured in an accident in a Florida Sam’s Club parking lot when he tripped over a tree root. Wolf, who was visiting the store to make a purchase, said he noticed trees in landscape areas scattered across the lot, but hadn’t taken note of the roots before he fell. Those areas – also comprised of dirt and mulch – were a few feet wide and not curbed, but had concrete walkways allowing visitors to cross them without actually stepping on the landscape areas themselves. Wolf was not on a walkway when that accident happened.

He later sued Sam’s, claiming that the company failed to keep the parking lot in a reasonably safe condition by allowing the tree roots to grow unruly above the ground in the landscape areas. The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to Sam’s, finding that Wolf was solely responsible for his injuries because he chose to walk directly across the landscape area, rather than using the concrete walkway.

The Fourth District affirmed the decision on appeal. “A landowner or occupier owes an invitee two independent duties: (1) to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and (2) to give warning of concealed perils,” the Court explained. However, under the “obvious danger” doctrine, the property owner isn’t liable when the particular danger is known or obvious to the injured party, unless the owner should anticipate that the condition nevertheless continues to pose a hazard to the party.

Here, the appeals court said the exposed tree roots in the landscaping areas were “so obvious and not inherently dangerous” that they could not be considered dangerous. The court also noted that Wolf could have avoided any possible danger presented by the roots by simply traveling on the concrete walkway. Indeed, the Court said Wolf acknowledged that he saw that the walkway was available and chose not to take it.

“[A]nyone who walks into a landscaping area containing trees, grass, and mulch is held to know that the landscaping area presents a hazard to walking, particularly when concrete traverses have been specifically constructed to prevent this type of accident,” the Court concluded.

As this case makes clear, premises liability cases often include complicated legal questions. If you were recently injured in an accident and are interested in pursuing a claim against the property owner of the premises where you were injured, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. Call the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine today. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Coral Springs and Pompano Beach. You can reach our Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or by filling out an on-line “Contact Us” form.

Related blog posts:

Tallahassee Convenience Store May be Liable for Parking Lot Gun Fight – Cain v. Shell Oil

Court Says Florida Store Not Liable for Parking Lot Accident – Ramsey v. Home Depot

Court Sides with Woman Injured In Tripping Accident at Florida Post Office – Kertz v. U.S.