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Nicoletti Walker Law Group Sept. 9, 2015

The Florida Supreme Court recently upheld a $4.5 million verdict for the wrongful death of two young adults (Ciara and Chauncey Sanders, 20 and 17 years old) who were shot and killed in their home ten years ago in part due to the negligence of the building owner, who failed to fix a security gate.

Although the jury had returned a verdict for the $4.5 million in 2009, the Florida Court of Appeals reversed the decision, finding that the family could not prove that the injuries could have been prevented had the gate been fixed properly. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the jury’s verdict, finding that the evidence provided did raise a question of fact as to whether the security gate mishap could have caused the death of the victims, and it was properly determined by the jury that it did.

The jury originally found the building owner (ERP Operating) to be 40 percent negligent in the overall case, meaning that the company owed $1.8 million of the $4.5 million total verdict. The verdict should serve as warning to property owners that they cannot allow important security measures to go unfixed for months (particularly given the number of criminal incidents that regularly took place at the residence).

Florida Law

Under the law, a landlord has a duty to maintain the premises rented to a tenant. At all times during a tenancy, they must comply with the building, housing, and health codes, and maintain:

  • Roofs;

  • Windows;

  • Doors;

  • Floors;

  • Steps;

  • Porches;

  • Exterior walls;

  • Foundations; and

  • All other structural components in good repair and capable of “resisting normal forces.” (This also includes the plumbing and screens).

The landlord must also make reasonable provisions for:

  • The extermination of rats, mice, roaches, bedbugs, and certain other nuisance organisms;

  • Locks and keys;

  • Clean and safe conditions of common areas;

  • Garbage removal and outside receptacles;

  • Heat during winter and running/hot water; and

  • Working smoke detection devices.

These obligations apply regardless of whether payments are made monthly or annually, and even if there isn’t the presence of a written lease. However, it is important to note that a written lease can contract out certain obligations on the part of the landlord, thus it should be read carefully prior to being signed.

Representation in A Case Involving Unsafe Premises and Wrongful Death

The duty to protect guests from harm extends beyond simply cleaning up spills and keeping walkways and stairways clear and in good repair. Any dangerous condition that the owner or operator of a property knows about or should reasonably know about can result in the owner or operator being held liable for any injuries that are caused by that condition.

Clearwater attorney Mike Walker is experienced in handling premises liability and wrongful death cases. He understands the emotional pain and suffering, along with the physical realities, that accompany losing a loved one unexpectedly. He will vigorously fight for the damages you deserve. Contact the office today for a free consultation.