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Florida First DCA rules that trial court erred in granting defendant summary judgment in premises liability case, pointing to evidence that allegedly dangerous condition violated building code

On July 20, 2021, in Dudowicz v. The Pearl on 63 Main Street, Ltd., No. 1D20-2507, the Florida First DCA affirmed in part and reversed in part a summary judgment order entered by the trial court in a premises liability case involving a fall by the plaintiff in one of the defendant hotel operator’s room. Photographs showed an unbeveled, 3/8-inch change in elevation between the tiled entryway and the carpeted floor of the hotel room. The plaintiff claimed that she was entitled to damages from her fall because Appellee breached both its duty to warn and its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. The trial; The First concluded that given the open and obvious change in floor level, the trial court correctly determined that defendant had no duty to warn Appellant of the condition, citing in support Earley v. Morrison Cafeteria Co. of Orlando, 61 So. 2d 477, 478 (Fla. 1952). However, the First concluded that the trial court erred in the summary judgment ruling for the defendant on the count alleging a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition because the plaintiff had introduced evidence a dangerous condition existed -- the elevation change violated a building code requirement that elevation changes over a quarter inch and less than half an inch be beveled. The Court cited Lindsey v. Bill Arflin Bonding Agency Inc., 645 So. 2d 565, 567 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) in support of the principle that because a building code is designed to protect the general public rather than a particular class of individuals, a violation constitutes prima facie evidence of negligence, but does not establish negligence per se. The Co0urt also cited, inter alia, Doering v. Villages Operating Co., 153 So. 3d 417, 418 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) (determining that evidence of a building code violation, i.e., failure to bevel any elevation changes over a quarter inch, could be used to support plaintiff’s claim that defendant’s property was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition).

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