Frequently Asked Questions - What is Constructive Knowledge?
There are multiple knowledge definitions: actual knowledge, constructive knowledge, imputed knowledge and seller’s knowledge. Fundamentally, knowledge definitions are utilized to outline whose knowledge matters in order to determine whether one of the knowledge qualifications have been breached and who is liable for said breach. These knowledge definitions are also used in court to clarify whose knowledge can be imputed.
Actual knowledge and constructive knowledge are important legal concepts often used in tort law as these differing types of knowledge have an extensive effect when determining liability.
Actual knowledge is just as it sounds – when someone actually knows something. Actual knowledge is used to directly and clearly prove liability as the guilty party would have the relevant information in question and there is no uncertainty in the matter.
The key variation in the next knowledge type is simply – presumption.
Constructive knowledge references knowledge that a party is presumed to have regardless of whether they do or not. Constructive knowledge may still be basis for liability. One would be considered to have constructive knowledge if the knowledge is something that they could reasonably be expected to know. It is attributed by law to a given party as knowledge that would be attainable by the exercise of reasonable care. Constructive knowledge is when someone is legally presumed to know something because they should have known it. A court may often find that a person has constructive knowledge of a certain condition, even if they lacked actual knowledge.
When stated like that, the difference between actual knowledge and constructive knowledge is simple enough to comprehend but let us now go through some examples to help further illustrate their real-life applications.
Say a property owner knew he had rotting floors because he recently had a flooring company come out to his house and provide him with an estimate for the repair work. Now, that same property owner decided to host a party regardless of his dangerously rotting floors and one of his guests was injured when the floor collapsed beneath them. The property owner would be liable for any injuries sustained as the owner had actual knowledge of a hazardous condition on the property and failed to protect the guests. The owner is duty bound to take steps to warn and to protect the guests from the danger on the property.
Now, on the other end, let us imagine that a patron slipped and fell in a grocery store in a puddle of water and, as a result, sustained injuries. On the video surveillance tape, we observe that something was spilled on the floor. Then, after five more hours of footage, we see the puddle is still on the floor. So, five hours went by without the dangerous condition being cleaned up by the store’s employees. The owner would be liable for the patron’s injuries as they would be found to have constructive knowledge. Even if the actual owner of the store or its employees had no actual knowledge of that particular spill, a jury will likely determine that the store owner had constructive knowledge of the spill as the store would be presumed to have such knowledge by exercising their fundamental duty – maintaining a reasonably safe environment. In short, they should have had knowledge of the dangerous condition and are thus liable. So, they would be deemed to have constructively known of the puddle of water even though they might have not actually known of it. Their obligation in regards to that hazardous puddle of water would be the same as if they actually knew of it.
Another example of constructive knowledge would be if a safety audit was conducted. An employer may not necessarily be aware of such information, but since the company is in possession of such information, there is a legal responsibility that comes with that information or “knowledge”. So, if an injury occurs and the case is brought to court to argue liability, it would definitely come into question whether the employer had constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the injury and could, and should, have prevented. It is not a defense for the employer to simply state that they did not knowledge of particular processes that were occurring which led up to the injury. It is the responsibility of the owner to know. They will likely be deemed to have constructive knowledge – they ought to have known through ordinary diligence.
Another example of constructive knowledge is geared toward product liability. If a manufacturer knows that young children might have access to their potentially dangerous product, then they have a duty to warn the public of the danger as they have an obligation to make it safe for all users. For instance, if a piece of furniture has great potential to tip over, this could be extremely harmful for a toddler who might be attempting to climb it or if simply weight was distributed unevenly. The company would need to warn the public of this extremely dangerous tipping hazard. Often times, they will also provide an adequate safety solution, i.e. straps to bolt the dresser to the wall stud.
The issue of determining whether there was constructive knowledge of something is quite often submitted to a jury for a decision in order to ascertain negligence and liability. It is presented to establish that although the defendant may not have had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, they are still liable as they should have had knowledge of the dangerous condition. In Florida, property owners are held at a very high standard when it comes to maintaining their premises in a safe manner for all. Simply arguing that they did not know about the dangerous condition is not an adequate defense. They are required to know of any dangerous conditions, warn its patrons of the hazard and fix the problem immediately. And constructive knowledge keeps them from escaping liability because if they would have made the proper inquiries and had sufficient safety policies and procedures in place, then the dangerous condition would have been discovered timely and, therefore, they could have avoided any injuries.