If you or someone you know gets hurt while visiting someone’s property (whether home or business), it’s important to keep in mind that the landowner owed two discrete duties to that person: (1) the duty to warn them of concealed perils which were known or should have been known to the landowner, but were not known to the visitor and (2) the duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.
Recently, in Frazier v. Panera, LLC, No. 5D22-1496, 2023 WL 4277440, at *2 (Fla. 4th DCA 2023), the Fourth District Court of Appeal reminded a trial court that the two duties are distinct.
The case involved a woman who tripped over a weighted sign base while walking into a Panera. The trial court—focusing on the duty to warn—granted summary judgment to Panera, concluding that Panera owed no duty to warn because the presence of the sign base was an “open and obvious” danger.
The Fourth DCA reversed the trial court. In addition to questioning the conclusion that the sign base presented an open and obvious danger, the Court held that the trial court ignored the other duty owed by Panera—the duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition. The Court wrote:
“Even if the base was considered an open and obvious condition under the circumstances, it is a separate and independent issue of negligence whether Panera created a hazardous condition and generally failed to maintain a safe premises under the circumstances. While the fact that a danger is obvious discharges a landowner’s duty to warn, it does not discharge the landowner’s duty to maintain his premises.”
In short, when evaluating a claim against a property owner, you must consider all the duties owned by the property owner, not just the duty to warn.