19. The Court finds from the testimony of the witnesses, as well as from its own observations that as the plaintiff walked from the South end of the reception area toward the stairs down to the Washington Room and Maple Room, she was walking through a dimly lit area into an almost completely dark area, and that if plaintiff had looked in the direction of the Maple Room, she would have seen either (a) nothing but darkness, or (b) a change in the floor level in the area ahead. In her testimony she indicated awareness of steps in the direction in which she was going.
20. At the dining room end of the reception area, one stairway leads down to the Washington Room and one leads down to the Maple Room. The stairway down to the Washington Room consists of about ten steps; to the right of that stairway is a flight of two steps leading down to the Maple Room. The two stairways are separated by a railing or banister.
21. Plaintiff stood at that railing with her hands on the railing, looking in the direction of the Washington Room, and was apparently unaware that she was standing at the head of the stairs to the Maple Room. There was no artificial light ahead. She heard no voices of persons talking or sounds from dishes.
22. Despite the fact that she was standing in almost complete darkness, plaintiff admitted that she took no precautionary measures for her own safety in moving toward the banister. She also admitted that she was aware that the area to her immediate right as she looked over the banister was dark, and that she had not sought to determine what lay in that direction. Still without any real concern for her safety, she stepped sideways to her right, with her attention directed completely toward the Washington Room, and fell down the stairs to the Maple Room.
23. Plaintiff believes that she was knocked temporarily unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she called to her son, who had not seen her fall.
24. Both of plaintiff's arms were broken as a result of the fall.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. At the outset, it should be noted that it is to be expected that there will be steps and changes in floor levels in public places. See, e.g., Trinity Episcopal Church of Vero Beach v. Hoglund, 222 So.2d 781, 783 (Fla. DCA1969). Thus it should have been apparent to a reasonably prudent person in plaintiff's position that the dark area into which she had walked might lead to a staircase. In fact, while plaintiff herself said that she had paid no attention to what might lie in the direction of the darkness to her right just before she fell, her son testified that he was able to see restaurant tables some distance ahead in the dark area, and was able to determine that those tables were on a lower level than the level of the reception area. Plaintiff indicated some awareness of the steps and consequent change in floor levels.
2. In addition, it would be expected that a closed restaurant area might contain other possible obstructions such as chairs and tables.
3. These factors only serve to emphasize the obvious fact that "darkness is, in itself, a warning to proceed either with extreme caution or not at all." Bredder v. Leidenfrost, 134 F. Supp. 487, 490 (M.D.Pa.1955); Trinity Episcopal Church of Vero Beach v. Hoglund, supra, 222 So.2d at 783; Hyde v. Blumenthal, 136 Md. 445, 450, 110 Atl. 862, 864 (1920).
4. The leading case in this jurisdiction is Smith v. Arbaugh's Restaurant, Inc., 152 U.S. App. D.C. 86, 469 F.2d 97 (D.C.Cir.1972), cert. denied, 412 U.S. 939, 93 S. Ct. 2774, 37 L. Ed. 2d 399 (1973). This case did away with the common law distinction between "invitee" and "licensee" and established the rule that the duty of a landowner to a visitor on his property is to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances."
... A landowner must act as a reasonable man in maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.