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Florida Third DCA reverses trial court’s dismissal of premises liability case involving fall at Homestead model home site; finds issue of material fact as to whether builder, through an uncommon design or mode of construction, created a hidden danger on its property that a prudent invitee would not anticipate

On  July 1, 2020 in Echevarria v. Lennar Homes, LLC, 3D19-1422, a premises liability case involving the plaintiff’s fall at a model home site in Homestead, Florida, the Florida Third DCA reversed the trial court’s summary judgment for the defendant. The accident allegedly occurred  while the plaintiff was exiting down a single-step transition from a raised front porch in a model home constructed by Lennar. The plaintiff maintained that Lennar created a dangerous condition – i.e., an optical illusion – because the walkway and porch were both “covered by the same colored brick pavers” and the porch “blended in perfectly with the adjacent walkway, making the step invisible to the naked eye as you exited the home.”  The Third DCA noted that that a property owner has a duty to its business invitees (1) to warn of concealed dangers which are or should be known to the owner and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care; and 2) to use ordinary care to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition both warn of concealed dangers.  The Third DCA additionally observed that although a difference in floor level, by itself, does not generally constitute a dangerous condition, an uncommon design or mode of construction creating a hidden danger that a prudent invitee would not anticipate may transform multiple floor levels into an inherently dangerous condition.  The Court cited Rice v. Whitehurst, 778 So. 2d 1027, 1028 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); Glanzberg v. Kauffman, 788 So. 2d 252, 254 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000) (“A plaintiff . . . can prove a dangerous condition by showing an uncommon design or mode of construction creates a hidden danger that a prudent invitee would not anticipate.”); and Allen v. Young, 807 So. 2d 704, 705 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) (affirming summary judgment in favor of the defendant for a slip and fall at the defendant’s residence where there was a change in elevation between the patio and pool areas of the yard, because there was “no testimony (expert or otherwise) to establish an uncommon design or mode of construction or that the layout created an ‘optical illusion”). The Third DCA concluded there was an issue of material fact as to whether Lennar, through an uncommon design or mode of construction, created a hidden danger on its property that a prudent invitee would not anticipate.

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