What Is “Reasonable Care” In Premises Liability

In Florida courts, premises liability is the legal concept of assigning responsibility for safety to the property owner. This means that visitors to a property should be able to navigate within that space in comparative safety without worrying about coming to harm because the property owner has exercised reasonable care in ensuring the environment is safe.

If a visitor to a property is injured, and a court case determines that a property owner has been negligent about the legal responsibility to exercise reasonable care in maintaining a safe environment, then the accident victim is owed compensation. The legal consequences here hinge on whether a property owner has taken reasonable care or not. But what does reasonable care mean?

Common Sense Precautions

In the legal sense, “reasonable care” means that a property owner takes the steps required to ensure that all aspects of a property are in good working order, as intended, and do not present any additional potential risks for injury. Crooked steps in a private residence, or even leading up to the front door, for example, are more than just unsightly. People not paying attention to the placement of their feet because they assume a surface is smooth, even, and level and can slip and fall due to this.

In this instance, reasonable care has not been observed because a property owner—aside from not wanting to spend money—has no reason to leave crooked steps in a state of disrepair. A risk exists because of this disrepair, so willingly ignoring that risk would be considered negligence.

In the same vein, a retail environment, such as a grocery store, has many customers coming in and out. If there is an accident with the spillage of fluids, such as vegetable oil, this creates a slippery surface on the floor. That slippery surface can cause many slips and falls. If the management quickly gets employees to set up barriers and clean the mess, that is exercising reasonable care. However, if the spill is left unattended for the entire day, and many people slip and fall because of it, that is negligence and failure to exercise reasonable care since the mess could easily be cleaned up.

Prevention Also Counts

In some cases, reasonable care means being more proactive about protecting property. “Attractive nuisance,” for example, is an aspect of property maintenance that states that if there is an element to a property that would prove attractive to passersby, then steps must be taken to control access. A swimming pool in a residence’s backyard is one example of this. Children in the neighborhood may take advantage of a swimming pool—and drown in it—if they can access it easily. Therefore, a fence should be built as a show of reasonable care to prevent people from easily accessing the feature.

In the same way, if a dog is on a property that is territorial and will aggressively attack people, care must be taken to restrain the dog when visitors are present. If a dog is free to roam on its own property and attacks a person, the property owner is liable for that injury, even though the dog was not in a public space and did not have to be legally leashed.

It Goes Both Ways

If you own a property, you have a legal obligation to ensure reasonable care has been taken to create a safe environment for others. But if you are on someone’s property and you are injured as a result of negligence on the part of the property owner, you may be owed compensation if there is sufficient evidence to satisfy a court. Talk to a premises liability attorney about the next steps you should take to ensure the people responsible are held accountable for their negligence.