Florida law requires businesses to keep their premises safe for customers. This includes keeping floors dry so that customers do not suffer slip-and-fall accidents. Those who are injured after slipping on a wet floor must show that a business had actual or constructive knowledge of the floor’s dangerous condition and should have done something to fix it.
Sometimes, plaintiffs can offer direct evidence to show that a business knew about a wet floor. For example, a waiter could testify that he saw a spilled drink on a restaurant floor. In other cases, accident victims must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove constructive knowledge. Plaintiffs demonstrate constructive knowledge by showing that a dangerous condition like a wet floor existed long enough that a business should have known about it, or that the condition happened with regularity at the business.
This month, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a slip-and-fall case that relied on circumstantial evidence to prove constructive knowledge of a wet floor. The court concluded that the plaintiff failed to prove constructive knowledge because her case relied on a series of “stacked” inferences.
In this case, the plaintiff entered a hospital from a rainstorm wearing flip-flops and carrying food and a beverage. While walking on the fourth floor, she slipped and fell, fracturing her knee. According to the court’s opinion, neither the plaintiff nor any witnesses saw a wet substance on the floor either before or after the fall. Instead, the plaintiff relied primarily on video evidence that showed employees dragging trash bags and other items to a utility room near the fall.
The plaintiff argued that a wet substance could have leaked onto the floor from one of the trash bags shown in the video, but the video itself did not show any leaks or spills.
The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s case rested on circumstantial evidence. Instead of evaluating direct evidence of a wet floor, the jury had to infer that the floor was wet based on the video evidence. But the court concluded that the inference that the floor was wet could not be sufficiently established. According to the court, other causes were just as plausible.
For example, just as the jury could have inferred that the floor was wet from a leaking trash bag, it also could have found that the floor was dry and that the plaintiff slipped on her own flip-flops—perhaps still wet from the storm.
Moreover, the court emphasized that the plaintiff’s case relied on multiple inferences, which it said were impermissibly “stacked” upon each other. For example, the plaintiff did not show that the trash bags from the video contained liquids or that those bags leaked. The plaintiff needed to demonstrate each of these inferences sufficiently to prove her case.
The opinion did not address whether the plaintiff could have proven constructive knowledge based on a past history of spills in the area where she fell. Even if a plaintiff cannot demonstrate constructive knowledge by showing that a floor was wet for a certain length of time, she can still win her case if she can show that the area where she fell was frequently wet. This second type of argument may be less vulnerable to the majority’s criticism of stacked inferences.
Because the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence that the floor where she fell was wet, it reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.
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If you or a loved one is the victim of a Florida slip-and-fall accident, those responsible for your injuries may owe you monetary compensation. The dedicated Miami personal injury attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada are experienced in handling slip-and-fall injury cases, and ready to meet with you today. We have the experience, dedication, and resources necessary to take on even the largest and most powerful business and insurance companies. Call 877-448-8585 for a free consultation with a lawyer today.