Florida courts generally recognize that property owners are responsible for keeping their property in a reasonably safe condition, especially for known and invited guests such as customers (shoppers who enter a store for the purpose of buying products, for example). In Marler v. U-Store-It Mini Warehouse Co., however, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explains that sometimes a property owner’s liability for injuries incurred by others on the property depends on the fine print. That is, a property owner can shield itself from liability in certain situations if the injured party signs an agreement including an exculpatory clause before the injury occurs.

Plaintiff Christopher Marler filed an action in federal court in the Southern District of Florida against Defendant U-Store-It Mini Warehouse Co. (U-Store-It) for injuries incurred in an accident on Defendant’s property. Marler stored three service trucks in warehouse space that he leased from Defendant. He was injured while repairing one of the trucks on the premises when the asphalt under the truck crumbled, causing the truck to crush his arm. Marler claims that U-Store-It is liable for the injury because it negligently failed to both maintain the asphalt in a safe condition and warn Marler that the asphalt was unsafe.

The district court, however, ruled that U-Store-It could not be held liable for Marler’s injury because an exculpatory provision in the lease shielded the company from such liability. Specifically, the lease provides that U-Store-It makes “no representations or warranties, either express or implied, as to the safety of the property, the Space [or] otherwise” and additionally states that the company is not liable for “personal injury or loss or damage to any Personal Property” occurring on the premises.

On further appeal, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, finding that “[t]he exculpatory clause absolves U-Store-It of liability for any negligence that might have caused Marler’s personal injury.” As a result, the Court refused to even consider whether Defendant owed a duty of care to Plaintiff to either repair the crumbling asphalt or warn Plaintiff of the danger posed by it.

Despite the ruling, a property owner may nevertheless be liable for injuries sustained on the property, even where an exculpatory clause is in place. A reviewing court will typically consider whether the agreement in which the clause is contained is valid – including a bargained offer and acceptance – and not unduly burdensome on either party.

If you were recently injured in an accident and are interested in pursuing a claim against the property owner of the premises where you were injured, call the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine today. Our slip and fall injury attorneys represent clients throughout South Florida, including in Hialeah, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Hollywood. We are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation. You can reach the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or fill out an on-line “Contact Us” form.

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