Establishing Constructive Knowledge in Florida

In a recent case, a man appealed a grant of summary judgment as to one of the causes of action in his slip and fall case. The case arose at a country club where the man was an invitee. There was a slippery substance on the dance floor and the man slipped on it. The club had allowed patrons to take drinks onto the dance floor.

The man filed suit alleging that the club had created the dangerous condition, or it knew or should have known of the condition because it was there long enough that it should have been discovered. He alleged that he experienced bodily and other injuries as a direct and proximate result of the club’s negligence.

The club answered and later filed for summary judgment. It argued that the plaintiff had to establish the club’s knowledge of the dangerous condition under Florida Statutes (2010) section 768.0755. It also argued that even though constructive knowledge could be established by showing the condition existed for so long the defendant should have known of the condition by exercising ordinary care, the plaintiff offered no evidence about how long the substance had been on the floor.

The plaintiff filed deposition transcripts in opposition to the motion. Facts from that testimony included that though the club had a policy against people bringing drinks on the dance floor, in practice, that police was ignored. Also, the man had only seen the substance after he fell and it smelled like alcohol. Someone else had seen him fall and testified that the way he fell made it seem like he had slipped on something.

After the plaintiff left the floor, an employee went over and wiped the area. A number of witnesses also testified that patrons frequently put their drinks on the audio speakers where the accident happened.

The trial court ruled that there had to be evidence to show that there was a failure to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of the dance floor. In this case there wasn’t any presented. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court explained that a plaintiff used to have to prove (1) duty of the person in control of the business, (2) the person failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the premises, and (3) failure to exercise reasonable care legally caused the loss or injury. In slip and fall cases where the plaintiff fell on a foreign substance, he had to also prove actual or constructive knowledge. Constructive knowledge could be proved by showing the dangerous condition was there for so long that the business should have known of the condition. Alternatively, it could be proved by showing the condition recurred so often it was foreseeable.

In this case, the plaintiff had shown he was a business invitee and the club owed him a duty of reasonable care. Although none of the testimony showed how the substance wound up on the dance floor, there was ample testimony that patrons would bring alcoholic drinks onto the dance floor that caused spills.

The appellate court found that the testimony presented circumstantial evidence from which a jury could infer the club or its agents allowed a dangerous condition to exist. It reversed the summary judgment.

If you are hurt in a slip and fall, the experienced attorneys of Friedman, Rodman & Frank may be able to help. Contact us at (305) 448-8585.


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