In an unpublished opinion from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel unanimously reversed summary judgment which had been entered in favor of a property management company — Paradise Beach Homes (“PBH”) — in a premises liability suit which alleged PBH failed to warn guests about the danger of diving off the pier into 3 foot deep, Santa Rosa Sound.
Knoll, the injured party, was staying with friends in a short term vacation rental home in Pensacola Beach which included a 188 foot private pier. When she arrived shortly after midnight she ran down the length of the pier and dove head first into the water, suffering a severe spinal injury.
On appeal, the issue was whether the property management company knew or should have known of the dangers associated with diving off the property’s pier and therefore had a duty to warn of the shallow depth. The trial court found in favor of the property management company finding that there was no history of anyone diving head first off the pier and that the defendant did not build the pier. On appeal, the injured party argued that the property should have known of the dangers of diving because the homeowner had previously placed a “No Diving” sign on their pier.
The appeals court reversed summary judgment saying a factual question existed which should be determined by a jury as to whether the property management company knew of the dangers of diving and specifically whether the “stenciled ‘NO DIVING’ on the wood boards at the end of the pier gave [the property manager] constructive notice of the danger.”
In Florida, constructive knowledge is knowledge deemed to be known by the property owner or operator because the condition existed for such a length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care the owner/operator should have known of it. This knowledge can be proved in court by showing the condition existed for a length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care the owner/operator should have known of the condition or that the condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.
In this case, the “No Diving” sign was on the pier for a substantial amount of time, and the management company was charged with semi-annual inspection, such that it became a question of fact as to whether they “knew or should have known,” of the dangers of diving from the pier into the shallow body of water.
Owners and property managers would be wise to consider the legal significance of warning signs (and the lack of warning signs) on their commercial or personal property. If you have any questions regarding premises liability, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 239-344-1249.