When Are Enough Warnings Enough?

One of the classic examples which people will point to as an example of liability law going too far are the supposedly obvious warnings which companies seem to attach to anything even remotely dangerous. A coffee mug will bear the sign “WARNING: HOT,” for instance, or a microwavable dinner will warn you to “Handle with Care” once it’s finished cooking.

At the same time, however, knives still don’t bear any disclaimers that say “CAUTION: BLADE IS SHARP.” So how do we determine when you need a warning and when you don’t? As it happens, there are a couple of Florida cases which illustrate just how far a warning system needs to go.

Seelbinder V. County Of Volusia

One September day in 1994, Volusia weather stations observed a lightning storm approaching their county from the south, and so their beach supervisor turned on a red light in the south and got people out of the water. However, the storm quickly passed overhead, doing no damage.

Soon after, they observed a second storm coming in from the northwest and the supervisor switched on a red light for the north beaches. As the lifeguard cleared the waters, the plaintiff, Seelbinder, was struck by lightning and severely injured.

Seelbinder sued the county since their warning system didn’t react in time to prevent her injury, but while the judge affirmed that the county had a duty to enact its warning system with all reasonable care, the court ruled that the system could not have prevented the strike since the bolt hit Seelbinder out of a clear sky and aimed at her despite the fact that she was on the beach and not in the water. In other words, then, a warning system needs to work correctly when it’s present, but it can’t be held responsible for a fluke injury that no one could have predicted.

Poleyeff V. City Of Miami Beach

Miami Beach leased a stretch of coastline known as South Beach from the state of Florida and allowed a company called Hurricane Beach Rentals to operate on it in exchange for some of the profits. Eugene Poleyeff rented a chair and an umbrella from the store, but when he later went into the water he was dragged out to sea by a riptide. Another tourist, Zachary Breaux, tried to rescue Poleyeff, but both were drowned by the riptide.

The estates of both victims sued the city of Miami Beach, among others, but the court found that the city had no duty to warn anyone of a naturally occurring danger like a riptide, at least not on a public beach. The duty may have been different at a swimming beach with a proper lifeguard and safety buoys, but South Beach was simply a stretch of coastline which the public was free to use.

The Presence Of Precedent

Something that’s worth noting is that both of these cases have, by their rulings, established a precedent in Florida civil law. In other words, despite being cases and not laws, future attorneys and judges can use these results to decide future rulings despite how neither of them appear anywhere in Florida’s statutes.

It’s this sort of complexity that demands an expert’s help when dealing with the American legal system. The shape of modern trials depends not only on the laws in the books, but also on possibly hundreds of previous court cases which were similar to whatever is currently going on. These rulings are often obscure and even conflict at times, which is why it’s important to have someone on your side who can quote all the right cases.

If you ever find yourself in need of a personal injury lawyer in or near St. Petersburg, Florida, you should look up the St. Pete Lawyer. We’re a top-notch office with the expertise and the resources it takes to bring your case to a speedy and successful conclusion, and we know all the precedents that will help resolve things in your favor.