Florida has very particular laws governing slip and fall cases. Often, people who are injured at a Florida business expect that it is automatically the business owner’s legal responsibility to pay for the damages or injuries, simply because they fall.

Recently, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, in the case of Burton v. MDC PGA Plaza Corp. and Holiday CVS, LLC, reversed a summary judgement entered on behalf of an injured patron at a CVS Pharmacy. Apparently, Janet Burton was injured, helping to open a new CVS Pharmacy, while unloading fixtures and stocking shelves with merchandise. In the midst of work, she noticed a pothole about one foot wide and two inches deep in the parking lot. She had advised CVS management and co-workers to be careful not to fall. About a week later, while returning to the store, she was seriously injured when she stepped into the same pothole, tripped, and fell to the ground.

She sued CVS and the landlord MDC, alleging that the Defendants breached their duty of care the maintenance, inspection, and repair of their Florida premises. Both Defendants answered and moved for summary judgment, to prevent the case from going to a jury, on the grounds that they owed no duty of care since the pothole was “open and obvious.” CVS also argued that it leased the property and it, therefore, had no duty to maintain it. The trial court agreed and dismissed Ms. Burton’s case.

On appeal, the Fourth DCA reversed and stated that a pothole is not a natural condition and is only formed when a landlord fails to maintain it properly by allowing it to fall into disrepair; furthermore, that Ms. Burton’s knowledge of the condition, before she fell, does not discharge CVS’s responsibility. Additionally, the court refused to allow CVS to escape responsibility merely because they lease the property, and held that CVS was as responsible as the owner because they invited Ms. Burton on to the property that they implicitly controlled and had the same responsibility as the owner.

This ruling makes it clear in Florida that a commercial tenant like CVS has a duty, independent of the landlord’s duty, to maintain its parking lots and stores in a reasonably safe condition regardless of whether or not the landlord has contractually assumed the responsibility.

As a Florida personal injury attorney, helping people hurt at a Publix or a CVS, I applaud the court’s decision to disallow CVS to escape responsibility for allowing their parking lot to be in disrepair. I hope this decision will motivate all Florida commercial retailers as well as landlords to ensure their parking lots are well lit and free of dangerous potholes or hidden tripping hazards.