Appeals Court Rules Summary Judgment Was Not Merited in Florida Negligence Case

In Peterson v. Flare Fittings, Inc., a man was apparently struck in the head by a 10-foot balloon that was tethered to a tree while he was attending a sporting event and trade show on a piece of property owned by a major theme park. According to the man, the balloon suddenly descended due to a gust of wind. As a result, the man reportedly became dazed and suffered pain.

After he was injured, the man reported the incident to a member of the event staff, who then brought the balloon down. A theme park manager allegedly told the man that the company would pay for any injuries he sustained due to being struck by the balloon. The manager also supposedly advised the man to seek medical treatment. Later that day, the injured man received x-rays and pain medication at a nearby hospital.

Two days later, the man returned to the property to compete in a paintball event. Prior to participating, however, the man was required to sign a release of liability with regard to the event host and the theme park. After declaring he was fit to engage in paintball, the man participated in the event. The hurt man was eliminated the same day and returned to his home state a couple of days later.

Approximately four years later, the man filed a negligence lawsuit against the three companies involved in hosting the Florida sporting event and trade show. The companies responded by filing a motion for summary judgment. In general, such a motion asks a court to rule that no material facts are in dispute and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. According to the theme park owner, the release of liability that was signed by the man two days after his injury expressly waived and released all past and future claims against the theme park. The other two companies argued that neither committed negligence because the man failed to demonstrate they owed him a duty of care. The trial court granted each defendant’s motion, and the hurt man filed an appeal with Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the man claimed the release of liability on which the theme park relied was ambiguous, and the other defendants failed to show they were entitled to summary judgment. According to the appellate court, such a release is only enforceable in Florida when the intent to waive liability “is made clear and unequivocal.” Since the release at issue failed to make clear that the man would be releasing the theme park from all liability related to any harm that occurred in the vendor area as well as any injuries he suffered while participating in the paintball competition, the court ruled the waiver was not sufficient to act as a post-claim release.

Next, the appellate court examined the evidence provided in the case. After stating the evidence offered by the injured man was tenuous, the court ruled that the other two defendants failed to offer any evidence to establish their lack of liability. As a result, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded the lawsuit for trial.

If you were injured due to someone else’s negligent act in South Florida, you should discuss your rights with a hardworking lawyer as soon as you are able. To schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Miami premises liability attorney, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website today or call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Peterson v. Flare Fittings, Inc., Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2015

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