Commercial Property Liability

Landlords and Tenants can both be sued when a customer is injured in a common area.

Commercial property liability may be placed on both a Landlord and the Tenant for injuries in common areas.

A customer could not see a divider in a parking lot because there was not enough lighting.

In Combs v. Aetna Ins. Co., 410 So. 2d 1377 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982), the Fourth District Court of appeals reversed a lower court order granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of a tenant in a shopping center.  A customer of a restaurant sued the owner of the restaurant when he fell over a divider in the parking lot.  The restaurant was located in a shopping center with a common parking lot.  The customer claimed that he tripped over the divider because the parking lot was not properly lit.  The restaurant owner argued that it should not be responsible for injuries because it did not have control over the parking lot.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals held that if the restaurant owner had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition then it had the duty to warn the customer.  Combs shows that a tenant have commercial property liability for injuries suffered by a customer when the customer is injured in a common area parking lot.

Customer could not see a gap in a sidewalk because his vision was obscured when he was carrying a carton.

In Levy v. Home Depot, Inc., 518 So. 2d 941 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987), a customer sued a tenant in a shopping mall because the customer was injured when he tripped on a gap in the sidewalk outside of the store.  The sidewalk was in a common area and the lease required the landlord to maintain the common area.  The store’s manager swore that he and his staff inspected the sidewalk before the customer fell to determine whether there were any dangerous conditions.  The customer swore that he could not see the gap in the sidewalk because he was carrying a large carton.  The store argued that it should not be responsible for its customer’s injuries because the gap in the sidewalk was open and obvious.  The store also argued that it should not be liable for the injuries because it did not have control over the sidewalk.  The lower court ruled in favor of the store owner.

On appeal the Third District Court in Levy stated that a property owner or occupier has the duty to 1) keep the property in a reasonably safe condition and 2) warn its customers of dangerous conditions when the customer does not know about the danger and the danger could not have been discovered through the exercise of due care.  The District Court held that the tenant had the duty to inspect the approaches to the store and surrounding areas for hidden dangers.  The District Court went on to state that a tenant operating a store has a concurrent duty with the landlord to provide reasonably safe ingress and egress from the store’s location.

Commercial Property Liability can be had for injuries caused by another person’s criminal activity.

The Third District distinguished Levy from Federated Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Doe, 454 So. 2d 10 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984), and stated that warnings can not prevent injury from certain dangerous conditions such as criminal acts of third parties on commercial property.  While not discussed in the opinion, there are exceptions to the general rule that a tenant does not have commercial property liability for injuries caused by criminal activity in common areas. For example, in Vazquez v. Lago Grande Homeowners Ass’n, 900 So. 2d 587 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004), the District Court held that if a property owner provides security services then it can be held liable for injuries cause by third party criminal activity.  Another example is found in Winn-Dixie Stores v. Johstoneaux, 395 So. 2d 599 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981), which holds that if there is evidence of an immediate past history of many similar occurrences of criminal activity in the vicinity then the tenant may be held liable for failing to act to provide a guard or to take other measures to protect customers from potential criminal activity.