Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

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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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that frequently arises in Florida premises liability lawsuits. The case required the court to determine if the defendant maintenance company had a contractually imposed duty to the plaintiff to warn the plaintiff’s employer of any dangerous defects the company discovered while cleaning the parking lot.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was an employee of a restaurant. One day, the plaintiff was asked to empty a grease trap into a dumpster located in the parking lot behind the restaurant. As the plaintiff approached the dumpster, he stepped in an uncovered water meter and spilled grease on himself. As a result, he suffered third-degree burns over his face and body.

The plaintiff initially filed a personal injury lawsuit against several parties; however, this appeal involves the maintenance company that the plaintiff’s employer had hired to maintain the restaurant’s parking lot. According to a contract between the plaintiff’s employer and the defendant maintenance company, the maintenance company was in charge of “sweeping” the parking lot. Also, the contract evidently contained a clause delegating the duty to warn the plaintiff’s employer of “any problems or defects that may be observed during each service visit” and that the company’s services were intended to “safeguard all persons and
property from injury.”

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Florida landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. Generally speaking, a plaintiff must show that the defendant knew or should have known about the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s fall and that the defendant failed to act to remedy the hazard or warn the plaintiff about the hazard. A plaintiff’s negligence in failing to notice an obvious hazard may be a defense to a Florida premises liability lawsuit.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a plaintiff who claimed that he did not notice the hazard that caused his fall because he was distracted by an employee of the defendant hardware store. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff was responsible for his distracted state because he initiated contact with the sales associate.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant hardware store one morning to pick up a part for his sprinkler system. The plaintiff entered the store through the garden section. The floor of the garden section as wet, as employees had just watered the plants.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the defendant grocery store had a duty to provide staged shopping carts for the use of customers. Ultimately, the court concluded that the store did not have such a duty and did not voluntarily assume a duty by implementing standard operating procedures directing employees to stage carts when they had spare time.

The case presents an important issue that frequently arises in Florida slip-and-fall cases. Specifically, it involves the existence and extent of a duty that a business owes to its customers.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant grocery store maintains a corral of shopping carts near the store’s entrance. The store employs a greeter whose job it is to stand by the entrance and greet customers. While the greeter’s primary responsibility is to greet customers, the store’s standard operating procedures call for idle greeters to stage shopping carts by dislodging them from one another and loosely nesting them, making it easier for customers to obtain carts.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case that raised an interesting issue that arises in many Florida slip-and-fall cases. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the extent of the duty that was owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, who operated a vacation rental house that was rented out on a weekly basis. This is an important determination because Florida premises liability cases often turn on the extent of the duty the defendant owes to the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident in a vacation rental home that was owned by the defendants. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the defendants rented the fully furnished house out for approximately six months, using the house themselves for the remaining portion of the year.

During the six months when the house was being rented out, the defendants used a property management company to handle the day-to-day affairs. The property management company advertised the home for rent, provided cleaning and linen services in between occupancies, and dealt with the check-in and check-out process.

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In Florida, landowners are required to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for those whom they invite onto their land. As a general rule, a landowner must take care to either remedy all known hazards on their property or at least warn visitors of the presence of the hazard.

Importantly, a Florida slip-and-fall injury victim does not need to prove that the landowner had actual knowledge of a hazard in order to be successful. It is sufficient to establish that the landowner “should have known” about the hazard, given the surrounding circumstances. This is helpful to many Florida premises liability plaintiffs because landowners may not readily admit that they were aware of a hazard on their property.

Another wrinkle in Florida premises liability law is the state’s recreational use statute. Under Florida Statutes section 375.251, a landowner who allows their land to be used by the public for recreational purposes does not have a duty to keep the land safe or to warn those who use the land of any hazards. In order for the recreational use state to apply, the defendant cannot charge a fee for the use of their land. Additionally, the statute does not protect a landowner against “willful or malicious” conduct. However, this can be difficult to establish. A recent case illustrates a plaintiff’s attempt to establish a city’s “willful or malicious” conduct.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida premise liability lawsuit discussing a landowner’s liability involving potentially hazardous conditions of the property. Specifically, the case dealt with a hazard that the court held to be “open and obvious.” The court held that because the hazard was easily observable by the plaintiff, the plaintiff was put on notice of the hazard’s existence and thus, the defendant could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was exiting a movie theater when he left the paved sidewalk to cut through a planter box containing a large palm tree. The ground immediately around the base of the palm tree contained artificial turf and some paving bricks that had become uneven as the tree’s roots grew underneath.

As the plaintiff walked across the planter box, he tripped and fell in a divot in the ground. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the movie theater.

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