What Obligations Do Property Owners Have in Physical and Sexual Assault Cases?

The obligations of property owners in physical and sexual assault cases consist of their legal duty to exercise reasonable care and to ensure persons are protected from the risk of harm while on the owners’ property. Failure to ensure certain standards of safety that lead to such an incident will trigger severe financial penalties for the property owners.

In Florida, property owners and possessors owe different degrees of responsibility, duties, or obligation to people who come onto their property, depending on how such people are categorized. The law recognizes three main categories of individuals who might be on someone else's property:

  • Invitees: a person who is invited onto the property for business reasons (customers of a retail store, job applicants, etc.);
  • Licensees: someone allowed on premises for social purposes, or for solely their purposes.
  • Trespassers: someone who is not authorized to be on the property at issue.

The legal duty owed to each category is different. Property owners owe the highest degree of care to invitees to make sure they are safe from dangers on their property. A property owner:

  • has a duty to repair and correct known risks;
  • has a duty to reasonably inspect for, discover, and correct unknown hazards in those areas of the premises to which an invitee might have access
  • has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the environment is safe for patrons.

In the case involving licensees, property owners are required to ensure that conditions are safe for them, but the level of care owed to this category is lower than that owed to invitees. A property owner is only required to take reasonable care to protect licensees from any known hazards on the property and does not have a duty to inspect for and discover unknown dangers.

In cases involving trespassers, landowners are not obligated to protect them if they enter the property without permission. However, property owners cannot willfully injure trespassers. If the owner is aware of the fact that there are frequent trespassers on the property, he/she will be liable for injuries caused by an unsafe condition on the property if:

  • the condition is one the owner created or maintained;
  • the condition was likely to cause death or serious bodily harm;
  • the condition was such that the owner had reason to believe trespassers would not discover it;
  • the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to warn trespassers of the condition and the risk presented.

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