Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case discussing a crucial issue that arises in many Florida personal injury cases. The case required the court to determine if the defendant insurance company could be named as a responsible party.

The facts of the case are not complicated, but the relationships between the parties are a little confusing. According to the court’s opinion, a girl was visiting a resort while at a Bible camp. The church leased several conference rooms from the resort. The resort had various other amenities, including a zip-line. The lease between the church and the resort did not mention the zip-line.

The young girl and a few friends decided to go zip-lining during some downtime. The girls had to sign release waivers and pay an additional fee. Unfortunately, while the girl was on the course, a resort employee forgot to clip the girl’s carabiner to the line, and she fell 50 feet. The girl and her family filed a personal injury case against the resort.

In June 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida premises liability case requiring the court determine if a property management company overseeing an apartment complex could be liable for a resident’s injuries. Ultimately, the court concluded that the agreement between the property management company and the owner of the complex may have placed a duty on the property management company to fix the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision to grant the management company’s motion for summary judgment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff had lived at the apartment complex for about 11 months. Typically, the plaintiff would drive to go get her mail from a kiosk located at the front of the complex. However, one day, she decided to walk. On her way, the plaintiff tripped and fell as she was walking down a sloped portion of the sidewalk that was designated for wheelchairs.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against several parties, including the property management company. Evidently, the property management company had entered into a contract with the owner of the complex whereby the company would advertise vacancies, collect rent, and maintain the property. Specifically, the agreement allowed the company to use its discretion when conducting repairs costing less than $2,000, but required owner approval for the more expensive maintenance unless “emergency action is necessary.” It was established that repairing the sidewalk would have cost more than $2,000. Both the property management company as the complex owner knew that the sloped walkway was not in compliance with city code.

Not surprisingly, slip-and-fall accidents are most common in areas that receive a high volume of foot traffic. Thus, shopping malls, grocery stores, sidewalks, and parking lots are the most common places Florida slip-and-fall accidents occur. Each of these locations presents unique dangers and may implicate multiple defendants. A recent state appellate opinion in a premises liability case illustrates the type of analysis courts engage in when reviewing slip-and-fall claims.

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was shopping at the defendant grocery store. Evidently, the plaintiff finished shopping and was returning her car to the corral in the parking lot that holds the carts until an employee can retrieve them. The plaintiff wheeled the cart into the corral without any issue. However, after depositing the cart into the corral, the plaintiff tripped as she exited the corral.

Apparently, the flat, metal crossbar that connected the two sides of the corral that was supposed to lie flat against the ground was slightly raised. According to the defendant, a delivery driver bumped into the corral a few months earlier, causing the frame of the corral to shift, slightly lifting the crossbar off the ground. The defendant grocery store indicated that it knew about the damaged corral, and had called to inquire about getting it fixed, but the repair was not made.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida slip-and-fall case in which the court discussed the difference between a plaintiff’s claim that the defendant landowner failed to maintain their property and a claim that a landowner failed to warn visitors about a known hazard. The case arose after the plaintiff slipped and fell on a portion of damaged sidewalk in the condominium complex where she lived.

Evidently, the plaintiff had lived in the complex for the past decade, and was familiar with the area where she fell. In fact, according to the court’s opinion, she regularly traversed the area without a problem. After her fall, the plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the complex, making two claims. First, the plaintiff asserted that the complex was negligent in failing to warn her of a known danger. Second, the plaintiff claimed that the complex was negligent for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.

The complex’s main defense was that the plaintiff knew of the hazard, and that it was open and obvious. The complex argued that these facts should negate any potential liability and that the court should dismiss the case against it. The lower court agreed, finding that the hazard was open and obvious, and holding that the plaintiff assumed any risk of injury by crossing the area she knew to be hazardous.

In March, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case raising an interesting issue involving the liability of a security company. The case presents an interesting issue for Florida accident victims because it required the court to determine if the plaintiff could hold the defendant security company liable for injuries she sustained while at a shopping mall. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff could not do so because she was not a third-party beneficiary of the contract between the mall and the defendant security company.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her husband were shopping at the mall when the plaintiff tripped and fell on a rubber mat. The plaintiff claimed that the mat was protruding from underneath a desk immediately before the secured entrance. At the time of the plaintiff’s fall, an employee of the defendant security company was sitting at the desk. The plaintiff’s husband took pictures of the mat after his wife’s fall, and it appeared to be curled up at the edges.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability case against several parties, including the security company. The defendant claimed that it owed her no duty of care because it did not control the area where the plaintiff fell and that the plaintiff was not a third-party beneficiary of the contract with the mall. That contract provided that the defendant would, among other things, “ensure that prompt action is taken to prevent or minimize losses, accidents, fires, property damages, safety hazards and security incidents.” The lower court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

As a general rule, Florida landowners owe those whom they allow or invite onto their property a duty to ensure that the property is reasonably safe. The exact nature of this duty depends on several factors, including the relationship between the parties and the nature of the hazards that are present on the landowner’s property. When a landowner violates this duty, and a guest is injured as a result, the guest may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the landowner. A recent case decided by a state appellate court illustrates the type of evidence a social guest must present to recover from a landowner.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a guest at a birthday party that was held at the defendant’s home. The defendant, however, was not the host of the party, and had allowed a friend to host the party at his home. When the plaintiff arrived at the party, she walked around the side of the house down to the backyard where the party was being held. As she made her way down a set of stairs, she tripped and fell. After her fall, she saw that there was an orange extension cord running across the steps. The defendant also stated that there were a lot of people inside the home at the time of her fall.

The defendant admitted that he was doing yard work earlier that day, but explained that all of his tools were gas-powered and that he did not use extension cords. He did, however, acknowledge, that he owned several orange extension cords. The defendant also explained that he left his home before the party started and arrived after the plaintiff’s fall, and that he had no knowledge of how the cord got there or who put it there. The plaintiff filed a premises liability case against the defendant, arguing that he was negligent in the maintenance of his property, which resulted in her injuries. The defendant unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment and filed an appeal.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida slip-and-fall case discussing the state’s pleading requirements and whether the plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleged a claim against the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s complaint was sufficient, reversing the lower court’s decision and allowing her claim to proceed towards trial.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she tripped and fell while at the local library. Evidently, the plaintiff was making copies when the bottom drawer of the copy machine “flew wide open” without any warning. As a result, the plaintiff tripped and landed on her knees. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the library, claiming that the library “owned the photocopier and had a duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the machine to ensure that it was safe for use by patrons.”

On the library’s motion, the court overseeing the plaintiff’s case determined that the plaintiff failed to state a cause of action and dismissed her claims. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiff did not plead a case that, if proven, would have entitled her to damages. The plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her case.

Like most other personal injury cases, Florida slip-and-fall claims are brought under the theory of negligence. Thus, to succeed in a slip-and-fall case, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the owner or lessee of the property where their fall occurred had knowledge that the hazard existed. A recent state appellate decision illustrates this requirement.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her daughter were visiting her daughter’s friend’s home so that the girls could get ready for a school dance. The day before, there was a light snowfall, however, it was undisputed that there was no snow on the ground at the time the plaintiff arrived. As the plaintiff exited her car and approached the front door, she slipped on some ice, but did not get hurt. When the plaintiff got inside, she told her daughter’s friend’s father (the defendant) that the front steps were icy.

As the plaintiff was getting ready to leave, she again told the defendant that the front steps were icy, and the defendant asked them to leave through the garage door. The plaintiff and the girls left through the garage door, and the plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of ice next to the front driver’s side door of her car. The plaintiff broke her ankle in the fall. She later filed a premises liability case against the defendant.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida premises liability lawsuit discussing whether the plaintiff’s case should be able to proceed toward trial despite the fact that the hazard causing her fall was open and obvious. The court concluded that, despite the obvious nature of the hazard, the defendant condo association was not relieved from repairing the known hazard. Thus, the court held that while the plaintiff could not proceed with a failure-to-warn claim against the defendant, her claim based on negligent maintenance of the property.

The Plaintiff’s Injuries

As the court explained the facts in its opinion, the plaintiff owned property in the defendant condo association and had lived there for the past 15 years. One day, the plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk in an area where she regularly traveled when she tripped on an unlevel sidewalk. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall and filed a Florida personal injury case naming the condo association as a defendant.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the condo association argued that the unlevel sidewalk was an open and obvious hazard and because of that, the plaintiff could not recover for her injuries. The trial court agreed, finding that as a matter of law, uneven pavement is considered an open and obvious hazard, and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff filed an appeal.

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In many Florida personal injury cases, the case comes down to physical evidence. For example, in a lawsuit claiming that a defective tire was responsible for a serious Florida car accident, the tire would seem to be a critical piece of evidence. However, in the wake of a serious accident, the parties involved may not be thinking about an upcoming lawsuit. This raises the possibility that a party may destroy – either intentionally or unintentionally – important evidence.

Under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380, courts can sanction a party for failing to preserve evidence. The sanctions that a court can impose against a party ranges from precluding the party from admitting evidence, prohibiting certain claims or defenses, giving the jury an adverse inference instruction, or dismissal of a case.

Generally, a court will not impose serious sanctions on a party who inadvertently destroys evidence. In Florida, when determining what sanction is appropriate, courts consider 1.) whether the destruction of evidence was willful or done in bad faith, 2.) the prejudice suffered by the other party, and 3.) whether the prejudice could be cured by the court. A recent case illustrates how courts handle claims of spoliation.

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