What Does “Knew or Should Have Known” Actually Mean?
What does it mean to “know” something? Why does it matter? More importantly, should people—including judges—hold you responsible for knowing something if you should know it but don’t? Who is to say whether you should know something at all? These are more than merely philosophical questions. Here, at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green, Wellington Injury Law Firm, we can answer this question and many other of your personal injury questions.
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As our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, many important phrases trigger (or do not trigger, depending on the circumstances) obligations under the law. In the field of premises liability law, one of the most critical phrases on which cases routinely turn is “knew or should have known.”
To explore the meaning of the phrase, let’s look at a case we first wrote about years ago. You may recall that in August of 2015, we wrote a blog about how a Broward County jury found a Fort Lauderdale hotel (the Riverside Hotel) partially responsible in the crash death of a pregnant woman; when the woman entered a cabana at the hotel pool, a drunk driver outside the hotel veered off the road and smashed into the cabana, killing her. The woman’s surviving husband filed the wrongful death case. While the majority of the liability fell on the drunk driver, the jury assigned 15% of the liability to the hotel. Our personal injury lawyers know that the hotel’s liability was premised on the fact that the cabana was located on hotel property just next to a dangerous curve in the road, and the hotel failed to erect a protective barrier.
Unsurprisingly, as our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, the owner of the hotel in that case appealed, arguing that the hotel should not have been held liable for what it deemed the unforeseeable incident.
Specifically, Riverside argued that the lower court should have granted its motion for a directed verdict on the issue of its negligence. This summer, two years later, a Florida Court of Appeal agreed and issued a ruling in favor of the hotel owner, reversing the finding at the trial court as to Riverside’s liability. In Riverside Hotel v. Demella, the Fourth District Court of Appeal found among other things that, in terms of foreseeability of the incident, “[e]vidence that Riverside was aware of the road’s slight curve is legally insufficient to establish that Riverside ‘knew or should have known’ or a dangerous condition on its own premises” (Emphasis added.)
Part of the court’s reasoning behind finding that the hotel should not have known that the accident was likely to take place was the fact that in the nearly fifty years since the road was created, there had never been a car which served off the road—“except for in the current case involving a severely intoxicated … and reckless … driver.” As one of the expert witnesses described, the chances of the crash were “as close to zero as you can get in a roadway transportation system.” In other words, the court was offering the fact that the crash was almost statistically impossible to support its finding that the hotel should not be liable.
Ultimately, as our personal injury lawyers know, the court wrote that the victim was unfortunately “in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, Riverside was also without fault. Riverside owed no duty of care to invitees within its walls with regard to [the road], as a danger to the hotel’s invitees from the placement of the pool cabana in relation to that road was not one of which Riverside knew or should have known.” (Emphasis added.)