Recently, a state appellate court issued its opinion in a Florida premises liability lawsuit arising out of fatal injuries a hotel guest suffered after being hit by a car. The record indicates that the injury victim was staying at the hotel when he got into a hotel golf cart and asked a hotel employee to drop him off at a trading post near the hotel. Besides a shuttle service to transport guests across a major highway, the hotel provided guests with a golf cart service for transportation throughout the resort. Hotel protocol provided that golf carts could not be used on public roads, except across a smaller portion of the highway for pick up and drop off on the east side of a major highway. In this case, the hotel employee drove the plaintiff across the smaller highway, and dropped him off at the east entrance to the major highway. As the plaintiff was stepping out of the golf cart, a car struck him.
After filing a negligence lawsuit against the hotel, the plaintiff died, and his case was amended to include a wrongful death claim. The plaintiff’s representative argued that the resort was negligent; however, the defendant claimed that their conduct did not create a foreseeable risk of harm. Further, the defendant argued that they did not breach their duty to the plaintiff, and the danger of stepping out onto a busy highway was open and obvious. The primary issue on appeal was whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim.
In Florida, questions concerning whether a defendant owes a duty of care is a question of law. To address this threshold issue, courts will analyze whether the defendant created a “foreseeable zone of risk,” thereby establishing a duty of care to the plaintiff. Generally, Florida negligence law recognizes that in cases where a defendant argues that the danger was within a foreseeable risk zone, they must still establish that they mitigated the risk or took steps to protect others from harm.