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Court Awards New Trial in Florida Premises Liability Appeal

Recently, an appellate court addressed whether a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction was appropriate in a Florida premises liability case. The case arose when an attorney was visiting her client in an Orange County jail. As she was passing through the security gate, the gate unexpectedly slammed down onto her, causing her to suffer injuries. The plaintiff pursued a lawsuit against the Orange County jail. At trial, she requested the court to provide a res ipsa loquitur instruction to the jury. After losing at trial, the County appealed, requesting a new trial, arguing that the instruction was inappropriate.

Res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule that shifts a plaintiff’s burden of proof to the defendant. The doctrine translates to “the thing speaks for itself”, and applies in cases where a court can infer negligence from the fundamental nature of an accident or injury. Plaintiffs who wish to prove a claim under the doctrine must meet three elements:

  1. Direct proof of negligence is unavailable;
  2. The instrumentality that caused the plaintiff’s injury was exclusively controlled by the defendant; and
  3. The injury would not have occurred without the defendant’s negligence

The law does not require a plaintiff to eliminate all other possible causes of an incident. However, a plaintiff must show that a reasonable person would find that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent.

In support of her jury instruction request, the plaintiff presented evidence from the jail’s staff. The staff testified as to the gate’s operation and procedures when a person passes through the security gate. The staff member operating the gate that slammed into the woman testified that he did not hit any buttons when the woman approached the gate. He stated that there are sensors that detect when a person is passing through the gate. The sensor should stop the gate from closing on a person. The plaintiff did not present any evidence that the sensor or gate was faulty. However, she presented limited testimony highlighting the officer’s negligence.

The court found that the plaintiff did not successfully establish that a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction was appropriate. The appeals court reasoned that the victim did not provide testimony describing the gate’s mechanics when the accident occurred, whether it malfunctioned and or if a defect could cause a sudden closure, or whether the county negligently maintained the gate. Ultimately, they reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for a new trial.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Florida Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a Florida premises liability accident, contact the lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada, P.A. Our firm’s experienced attorneys also handle claims stemming from maritime accidents, construction accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, car accidents, and premises liability. We provide clients with respect, empathy, and fierce advocacy. Through our skills resources, and talents we have recovered significant compensation on behalf of Florida injury victims. Contact our law firm at 877-448-8585, to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our office.

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