If you trip and fall in hole in the grass in Florida, you may be able to get compensation.
Your fall could happen on the premises of an office building, at a cemetery or somewhere else.
This article focuses on Florida cases.
1. Does a landowner or occupier have a duty to make its landscaping areas safe for walking?
In Florida, maybe. However, there are certain situations when a landowner has no duty to make its landscaping areas safe for walking.
A property owner or operator has no duty to make its landscaping areas safe for walking when it has already provided concrete walkways for invitees to cross the landscaping areas. Wolf v. Sam’s E., Inc., 132 So. 3d 305, 307-08 (Fla. 4th DCA),
Who are considered invitees?
a) You worked in an office that was in a building on the property where you tripped and fell in this grass; or
b) You were visiting the property to conduct business. This includes going to a supermarket to buy something, getting a room at a hotel to stay, going to a shopping mall, going to a gas station – you get the point.; or
c) You were visiting a friend or relative that worked at a business on the property.
The property owner, homeowner’s association, condominium association and property management company must keep the grass free from holes and give a warning if they actual or constructive notice that a hole is in the grass if:
a) If you rented a house or were staying at someone’s house on the property.; or
b) You were visiting someone (a friend or relative) that lived in a condo, apartment or house that is part of an association.
In all of the scenarios described above, the owner or management company must also warn you if they know or have constructive knowledge that there is a hole in the grass on their property. If you fall into one of the above categories, it is good for your case.
You may have a more difficult case if you were walking your dog in the neighborhood and you tripped and fell in a hole on a neighbor’s grass that was on their property. This is because the neighbor can argue that you should not have been on their property and were trespassing.
If you were injured on a neighbor’s property when you were walking your dog, it is better for your case if your neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks. For example, in Coconut Grove (Miami), Florida there are many streets that don’t have sidewalks and you are basically forced to walk your dog – at times – on the neighbor’s property.
If you were trespassing on the property, then the property owner, condo association, homeowner’s association and Management Company may say that they basically had no obligation to keep their property safe because you should not have been on their property.
In Florida, the property owner or management company isn’t liable for your damages (medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.) if you were trespassing unless they did something intentional that injured you. (Florida Statute 768.075)
2. Why were you walking on the grass?
If you were walking on the grass because there was no other area to walk on, this is the best case for you. Sometimes the ground area is poorly designed and a sidewalk ends and you are forced to walk on grass. This makes for a better personal injury case.
Were there concrete (or designated) walkways for invitees to cross the landscaping areas?
If you were walking on the grass because you were taking a shortcut instead of walking on a nearby sidewalk or pedestrian walkway, you may have no case.
The further it would have taken you to get to the sidewalk, the better your case is because you can argue that you should not have had to walk a long distance to get onto a sidewalk when you could have just cut through the grass. If the nearest sidewalk was 1/2 a mile away, this may help your case.
If you live in a condominium and you have to walk on the grass to walk your dog, this helps your case if you trip and fall in a hole in the grass. This is because your argument would be that there is nowhere else in the immediate area that you could have walked your dog and that you were “forced” to use the grass.
It also helps if the condominium advertises that the building is pet friendly as you can argue that a pet friendly building should have a grassy area where you can walk your dog.
3. Could you see the hole before you fell?
The best case for you is if you could not see the hole because it was covered by grass that was at the same level as the other grass. Your argument is that there was nothing you could do to avoid the hole because it was like a “trap door.”
If the hole was not covered with grass, this makes the case more difficult. If it was reasonable to see the hole in the grass – if you are paying attention – then this makes the case more difficult. The best case scenario – if the hole was not covered with grass overgrowth – would be that you were turning a corner and you could not see it and thus tripped in the hole.
4. Were there witnesses to the fall (or immediately thereafter)?
Although not a requirement to have a good case against the property owner or the maintenance company, it is always good if you have a witness that saw you fall.
If you do have a witness that saw you fall, ask them to complete a witness statement or affidavit that talks about the cause of your fall.
An affidavit is basically very similar to a witness statement except that a notary witnesses it.
If the witness did not see you fall, but saw you on the ground after your fall, ask he or she to complete a witness affidavit or statement saying that he or she saw you on the ground and that you were next to a hole covered with grass overgrowth (if this is the case).
Ask the witness to state in the affidavit how deep the hole was. Generally speaking, the deeper the better, but as long as the hole is unreasonably deep (saw a few inches or more) that is all you need.
If you were in pain, the witness statement or affidavit should say describe your pain (e.g. you were screaming or crying).
This can weaken the property owner’s, condominium association’s, or management company’s argument that your injuries were unrelated to this accident because you were not in pain at the accident scene. Get as many witness statements as you can get.
If you called fire rescue (paramedics/ambulance), they can be witnesses as well. From my experience, if it is a private ambulance company then the employee (who is a witness) who saw you on the ground is more likely to complete a witness statement or affidavit than if it were a fire rescue employee of the government (County or city employee).
For example, I have tried speaking with some Miami-Dade county fire rescue employees following a fall and they are hesitant to sign an affidavit. The good news is that he or she is required to give you his or her testimony if you file a lawsuit.
5. Did you report the incident?
You should always report your accident to the property owner as soon as possible following your accident.
If you called fire rescue or 911 following your fall, you should request those medical records, bills and the 911 tape following the fall.
Even if you did not report the incident to the property owner or property management company, if you called 911 or have witnesses you should be ok. But I would still report the incident to the property owner as soon as possible.
6. Did anyone know about the hole before you fell?
You can argue that the property owner, condo association, or property management company knew about the hole in the grass before you fell because holes don’t appear overnight. But it is helps your case if there is a witness that will sign an affidavit stating that he or she knew that the hole was there a long time – or some time – before you fell.
It is even better for your case if the witness – or someone they know – notified the owner, condo association, or maintenance company before you fell. This could have been verbally – if they told them about the hole – or even better would be in writing via email, fax or letter.
7. Had you walked in the area before?
The more that you had walked in the area – where the hole in the grass was – before you fell, the worse it is for your case.
This is because the property owner, homeowner’s association or maintenance company will argue that you knew or should have known about that hole before you fell. But even if you knew about the hole before you fell, you may very well still have a good case for your personal injuries.
8. Did your trip and fall in hole cause serious injuries?
As you can imagine, the seriousness of your injuries has an important impact on the value of your case.
If you have large medical bills or lost wages and have been through a lot of pain and suffering, you may have a very strong case. If you have minor injuries, such as minor bruising or pain that goes away, it is possible that an attorney will not take your case.
9. Is there insurance available?
Even if the property owner, condo association, homeowner’s association, store, was at fault, and even if you are badly injured, it is always great when they have insurance to cover you for your injuries.
The good news is that the majority of the time, building owners, maintenance companies, and condo or homeowner’s associations usually have at least 1 million dollars of insurance that will cover you for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If you were injured on the grass outside of someone’s house, you would make a claim against their liability coverage under their policy.
You can find out whether the property management company or owner has insurance by sending a letter to them requesting their insurance information. In Florida, the insurance company for the property owner or management company is required to respond to your written request for insurance information. (See Florida Statute 627.4137)
Keep in mind that you still have to prove that the property owner was at fault for not covering a hole in the grass and that you are seriously injured from tripping into the hole.
Deadline to make a claim.
If a landowner or occupier has a hole in the grass and you trip and fall in it, your injury case is based on negligence. Learn the time limit to sue for negligence in Florida.
Don’t pay too much attention to what the insurance company says.
If the insurance company for the property owner (or management company or landscaping company) tells you that they are not liable for your injuries, you may still have a good case.
Often times, the insurance company denies someone’s claim – for injuries – and/or closes their file in the hopes that the injured person will give up. Insurance companies save Billions of dollars doing this every year!
If the insurance company has not said that they have denied your claim, but rather that they have closed your file, just write the insurance company and ask them to re-open your claim. It is as simple as that. The fact that they told you that your claim is closed is meaningless unless the time for you to file lawsuit has expired.
As an example, I represented a client against a supermarket when something fell on her foot.
I received a letter from one of third-party adjusters and they denied the claim and offered nothing. I sued the supermarket and immediately after they were served with the lawsuit I received a call from the adjuster and she offered $18,000 to settle the case. I have other similar stories to this. Listen to the insurance adjuster but take what they say with a “grain of salt.”
As you can see, there are many factors when deciding whether you have a personal injury case if you trip and fall in a hole in the grass.
Was the defendant negligent?
Even if you were walking in area that you were allowed to walk in and you were injured, you may still lose your case.
This is because in order to get damages for falling in a hole in the grass, you must prove that the property owner was negligent (careless). A recent case (not mine) proves this point.
Actual case (not mine): The Plaintiff was awarded $0 when he sued a property owner for his injuries after he claimed that he tripped and fell in a hole in the grass.
The owner argued that he maintained his property and the Plaintiff could not show that he was injured by a hole in the grass. The Plaintiff was moving furniture from one of the units in the defendant’s residential building.
The Plaintiff even had 3 witnesses who said that they saw a hole in the ground after the Plaintiff fell.
The Plaintiff fractured his tibia (lower leg) from the fall and he had to have ORIF (plate and screw inserted) surgery.
This case shows you that even with a bad injury, there is no guarantee that you get a penny for your case.
However, the jury could have found that the defendant was 100% at fault and the verdict could have been large. I settled a tibia surgery case for $445,000 and another one for $325,000. As in any case, there are so many things that affect the value of a personal injury case.
My Settlements for trip and fall in hole in grass.
My actual case: $64,900 Settlement for a man who had surgery to repair an ankle ligament tear after he tripped and fell in a hole that was covered with grass overgrowth in a condominium complex where he worked. $58,000 of the total settlement amount was for pain and suffering.
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Person who injured L4-L5 disc says
L4 L5 right leg went in a 3 foot sink hole after we had floods in Pensacola this year, I am a renter and now seeking medical help with very bad pain and stress
Justin Ziegler, Injury Lawyer says
Dear Person who injured L4-L5 disc:
Thank you for telling me about your fall and injury. I am sorry to hear that you were injured. I hope you feel better. What, if anything, do you think that the landlord did wrong (or should have done) that caused your injury?
I suggest that you speak with an attorney immediately. There is a time limit to file a lawsuit. I am not your attorney. This is not legal advice.