District Court Summary Judgement Case Reversed by Eleventh Circuit Over Genuine Dispute of Material Fact

In a recent appeals case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit produced an opinion for an appeal involving a summary judgment ruling in a negligence case in Florida. The plaintiff-appellant was injured when she slipped on a grape in a Wal-Mart store and she subsequently sued the defendant-appellee, Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (Wal-Mart), for negligence. At trial, after the discovery process was completed, Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted, finding that the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact that Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge that Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge of the grape, and thus she could not succeed on a negligence claim under Florida law. The plaintiff then filed a timely appeal.

The incident in question occurred on August 23, 2018, when the plaintiff was shopping at a Wal-Mart in West Palm Beach when she slipped on a grape and fell on her back and left side. A nearby employee helped her get up. The plaintiff reported feeling dizzy, and after filling out a Customer Incident Report, she went to Palm Beach Gardens Hospital, where she received treatment. The plaintiff had twice inspected the produce section near the grapes before falling, stating that she had not seen the grape either time. An employee had walked through the section approximately ten minutes prior to the accident and did not see the grape. A two-hour video from Wal-Mart’s surveillance cameras could not conclusively establish when the grape appeared in that spot. Following the accident the plaintiff sued Wal-Mart for negligence and Wal-Mart removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida based on diversity jurisdiction.

Following the district court’s granting of summary judgment, the plaintiff filed an appeal contending that when viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, the evidence on the record contains a genuine dispute of material fact over Wal-Mart’s constructive knowledge of the grape that caused her to fall. Under Florida law, a plaintiff must establish four elements to sustain a successful negligence claim: (1) “the defendant owed a ‘duty, or obligation, recognized by the law, requiring the [defendant] to conform to a certain standard of conduct, for the protection of others against unreasonable risks’”; (2) “the defendant failed to conform to that duty”; (3) there is “‘[a] reasonably close causal connection between the [nonconforming] conduct and the resulting injury’ to the claimant”; and (4) “some actual harm.”

Additionally, under Florida law, [i]f a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it. Constructive knowledge may be proven by circumstantial evidence showing that: (a) The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition; or (b) The condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable. According to the appellate opinion, the presence of track marks and footprints around and through the grape as well as the surveillance video footage showing no clear moment when the grape fell to the floor could lead a reasonable jury to infer that the grape was on the floor long enough to constitute constructive knowledge. As a result, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the appeals court reversed the lower court decision.

Have You Suffered Serious Injuries in a Florida Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries following a Florida slip and fall accident, the lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada can help you understand your rights and the remedies available to you under Florida law. Our team of attorneys has successfully advocated for injured individuals throughout Florida for 46 years. Expenses from injuries or harm can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of attorneys by your side can make a world of difference for your claim. Make sure that you make the most out of your claim and get the award that you deserve. Contact our team at 305-448-8585 to schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a lawyer at our office.

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