Premises Liability and Designated Walkways

In the recent case of Wolf v. Sam’s Club, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D157 (2014), the plaintiff, Mr. Wolf, sued Sam’s Club for negligence arising out of an injury he sustained while walking through a landscaped area on his way into the store. There were concrete walkways for customers coming from the parking lot into the store. However, Mr. Wolf chose to walk through a landscaped area because it was a shorter distance to the store.

While walking through the landscaping area, Mr. Wolf tripped on a tree root and said he had not noticed the roots before falling. Mr. Wolf sued Sam’s Club for breaching its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition by allowing roots to grow above ground in the landscaping area. Sam’s Club then moved for summary judgment against Wolf, asking the Court to dismiss the law suit because Mr. Wolf chose to walk across the landscaping area when there were concrete walkways that are specifically designed and maintained for their customers.

Ultimately, the Appellate court agreed with Sam’s Club that under Florida law, the obvious danger doctrine provides that an owner or land is not liable for injuries to an invitee caused by a dangerous condition on the premises when the danger is known or obvious to the injured party, unless the owner should anticipate the harm despite the fact that the dangerous condition is open and obvious. The appellate court relied on other cases in Florida which found that, “landscaping features are generally found not to constitute a dangerous condition as a matter of law.

A landowner has no liability for falls which occur when invites walk on surfaces not designed for walking, such as planting beds.” Further, the court found that planting beds and landscaping areas do not constitute a dangerous condition when used as landscapes and not for walking. Since Mr. Wolf testified that he knew about the walkways but chose to walk through the landscape, he should have known it was a possible hazard and that Sam’s Club had no duty to make the landscaping areas safe for a pedestrian to walk or cross through.

This is an important case in premises liability law. Most people have taken a short cut across a parking lot through landscaped areas, and while each case is different, people should know that they may be taking that shortcut at their own risk.