Nicholson, the plaintiff appealed a judgment following an adverse jury verdict.
The plaintiff was shot in the leg by a third-party while attending a party
at the defendant apartment complex's common area. The plaintiff sued
the apartment complex for negligence arguing the complex failed to maintain
its premises in a safe condition and failed to provide adequate security.
The apartment complex argued that its duties to the plaintiff were limited
because the plaintiff was a trespasser at the time she was shot. The plaintiff
asserted that her status on the land was irrelevant because her lawsuit
was founded on ordinary negligence and not premises liability. The trial
court agreed with the defendant, and permitted the jury to consider the
plaintiff's status as a discovered trespasser in rendering its verdict.
The Fourth District began by distinguishing ordinary negligence from premises
liability. In ordinary negligence cases, "the defendant owes the
plaintiff a duty of reasonable care, regardless of the relationship between
the defendant and plaintiff." In premises liability cases, "the
defendant's duty to the plaintiff is dependent on the plaintiff's
status to the land." Under Fla. Stat. 768.075, "in a premises
liability case, the only duty a property owner owes to an undiscovered
trespasser is to refrain from causing intentional harm, and the only duty
it owes to a discovered or 'known' trespasser is to refrain from
gross negligence/intentional harm and to warn of known conditions that
are not readily observable by others."
The Fourth District further noted that there are instances where a landowner
may be liable under ordinary negligence, in which case the injured party's
status on the land is irrelevant. Such scenarios result when the trespasser
is injured as a result of the landowner's active conduct as opposed
to a condition of the premises. The Fourth District explained that no
Florida court had considered whether negligent security cases are governed
under standards of premises liability or ordinary negligence. First, the
court identified several cases support the conclusion that negligent security
cases fall under the umbrella of premises liability. Second, the court
found that negligent security cases logically should fall under the umbrella
of premises liability. Ordinary negligence involves active negligence
(tortfeaser does something to cause harm) whereas premises liability involves
passive negligence (the tort easer's failure to do something causes
harm). Negligent security cases concern the landowner's failure to
keep the premises safe and secure from foreseeable criminal activity;
thus, it sounds in premises liability and not ordinary negligence. Accordingly,
the Fourth District ruled that negligent security cases are governed by
premises liability and not ordinary negligence.