Premises Liability: Is property owner liable for death at bonfire party?

Attorney Katherine Loper
Attorney Katherine Loper
Deep in the woods off Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville police say, a brutal beating took place, one that killed 19-year-old and turned his family’s life upside down.Police said the fight that killed the young man happened during a bonfire party early Saturday morning on the property. Evidence of that party remains there — trash littered around the site. According to the property appraiser, the lot is vacant and owned by a man who lives in St. Augustine. The property is appraised at more than $3 million. Police said the property has became sort of a hangout for young people.
“Police were not foreign to this. They had been called their before, truancy, some other incidents, but nothing to this magnitude,” said Lt. Rob Schoonover, of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
So what is the responsibility of the landowner to keep people off his property and out of potentially fatal situations?A property owner may be held liable for a crime committed on the property by a trespasser provided that the crime was foreseeable and the individual who was injured was invited on the property in some form or fashion. If all of the indviduals who were on the property were trespassers, the owner’s only duty is to refrain from inflicting willful or wanton injury. Also, once the property owner discovers a trespasser on his or her property, the property owner owes a duty to warn him or her of any known dangers that the trespasser could not detect with ordinary observation You might ask who is defined as a trespasser under Florida law.
Florida law defines a trespasser as one who enters the premises of another without license, invitation, or other right, and intrudes for some definite purpose of his own, or at his own convenience, or merely as an idler with no apparent purpose, other than perhaps to satisfy his curiosity. Now, if the injured party was invited on the property by the owner, the injured party must still prove that the crime in question was one that the premises owner should have foreseen. One way of accomplishing this is to demonstrate that the premises owner knew or should have known of the specific third party’s inclination toward crime, a test that is well-established in Florida law.
Unfortunately, we do not know enough to be able to define the deceased as an invitee or other. Regardless of what we do not know, we can always send good thoughts, well wishes and prayers to the deceased’s family. As always, be safe and be aware.
– Katherine
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