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Constructive Knowledge in Florida Slip and Fall Cases

When a guest is injured while on another’s property, they may pursue a claim against the property owner. To succeed in a Florida slip and fall lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to show, among other things, that the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.

A property owner’s knowledge of a hazard can be proven through actual knowledge or constructive knowledge. Of course, proving actual knowledge can be difficult. Thus, many cases rely on proving a landowner’s constructive knowledge of a hazard. Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida premises liability case discussing constructive knowledge.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was shopping at the defendant grocery store when she slipped and fell. The plaintiff testified that she did not see anything on the floor before she fell. However, when she stood up, she saw a “clear, dirty liquid” that was later identified as a smashed grape. Two witnesses were nearby, and neither saw the fall, but both saw the substance on the floor. Neither saw footprints or cart track marks through the substance.

The grocery store argued that the case should be dismissed based on the plaintiff’s failure to show that the store had knowledge of the substance. The store called an employee as a witness, who testified that he passed by the area four times shortly before the plaintiff’s fall and did not see the grape, or any substance on the floor. The question for the court was whether the substance was on the floor long enough to result in the store’s constructive knowledge of the substance.

The court began its analysis by explaining that constructive possession can be proven in two ways. First, by showing that the hazard existed for long enough that the property owner should have known about the presence of the hazard. The second way to prove constructive possession is by showing that the hazard occurred “with such frequency that the owner should have known about its existence.” Here, the plaintiff argued that the grape (and the surrounding liquid) was on the floor for long enough that the store should have known it was there.

The court disagreed, relying on the employee’s testimony that he walked by the area four times in the half-hour leading up to the plaintiff’s fall. The employee explained that it was his job to “always be on the lookout” and that when he walked by the area he “observed the floor to be clean, dry and free of any debris.” The court held that the grape was not on the floor long enough to impute constructive knowledge to the grocery store. Thus, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Slip and Fall Accident?

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Florida slip and fall accident, contact the dedicated injury lawyers at Friedman Rodman & Frank for immediate assistance. The dedicated Florida injury lawyers at our firm have extensive experience helping clients get their lives back on track after life-altering accidents. We provide free consultations to all prospective clients in which we will discuss your case and answer any questions you may have. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to speak with an attorney today.

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