Florida Appeals Court Finds Against Plaintiff in Liability Case, Affirming Trial Court

In a recent case, the District Court of Appeals of the State of Florida Fourth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a premises liability action arising from a slip-and-fall incident at a restaurant. The suit was between Elizabeth Sentz, the Appellant, and Bonefish Grill, LLC (Bonefish Grill), the Appellee, arising from an incident where Sentz slipped and fell after a brunch at a Bonefish Grill location.

Facts of the Case

The issue arose when Sentz went to a Bonefish Grill location with four friends for brunch. The group was at the Bonefish Grill for a couple of hours, and Sentz had something to eat and drink. Near the end of her visit, Sentz visited the restroom. She slipped on water on the floor about eight to 12 feet from the bathroom door. The flooring was tile, with the look of hardwood. She described the area where she fell as a dining area separated by a wall from where she was seated with her friends. Prior to her fall, Sentz did not see the liquid. She did not know how that liquid got onto the floor, and how long the liquid had been on the floor before her fall. The puddle of liquid had a diameter of about 12 to 18 inches. She saw pieces of melted ice in the puddle.

Prior to returning to her table, a server came around the corner and Sentz notified her of the spill, telling the server that she had fallen. The server replied that she was aware of the spill and had meant to clean it up before. Other than that interaction, Sentz did not speak with the server at any other time. Sentz argued sufficient record evidence showed that BFG was aware of the dangerous condition, as the female server told Sentz that she was already aware of the presence of liquid and had meant to return to clean it prior to Sentz’s fall.

The trial court found in favor of Bonefish Grill, granting summary judgment and finding that Sentz did not provide sufficient record evidence showing that the Bonefish Grill was aware of the dangerous condition. The trial court opinion stated that other than Sentz’s word on the issue, there was no evidence regarding any interaction with a server that verified Sentz’s version of events, that the server was a Bonefish Grill employee, or that the server was referring to the area that Sentz slipped on. As a result, the trial court granted summary judgment. Sentz filed an appeal.

On appeal, Sentz argued that the server’s statements to her after she fell could be admitted as evidence under a hearsay exception. Sentz argued that (1) the declarant is the employee of the employer; (2) the matter is within the scope of the employment; and (3) the employee made the statement while employed by that employer. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the trial court did not err in disregarding the server’s purported statement to Sentz as inadmissible hearsay which could not be used to defeat the motion for summary judgment based on BFG’s lack of actual knowledge of the transitory foreign substance. The appellate court subsequently upheld the trial court decision, affirming the summary judgment ruling.

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