Florida Court Addresses Negligence Per Se Claim in Elevator Accident

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion addressing, amongst other issues, whether negligence per se applied in the plaintiff’s lawsuit arising after an elevator accident. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the owner of a two-story building after suffering injuries when stepping onto an elevator in the building. Evidently, the elevator door opened while the elevator was still several inches below the door’s entrance, causing the plaintiff to fall into the elevator. The lawsuit alleged negligence, negligence per, and res ipsa loquitor. The defendant argued that they were not negligent, the plaintiff was comparatively negligent, and the incident was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the ruling was improper because there was a genuine issue of material fact. One of the primary issues on appeal was whether the building’s owner was liable under negligence per se.

Negligence per se is a legal theory that places liability on a defendant based on their violation of a statute. The theory applies in situations where the defendant engaged in conduct that violated a statute designed to protect against the type of injury the victim suffered. Historically, negligence per se decisions stem from the violation of a statute designed to protect a specific class of people, a violation of a penal statute, or a violation of statutes designed to protect the public.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendants violated Section 399.02(5)(b), specifically the Florida Elevator Safety Act (the Act). Under this Act, elevator owners are responsible for the safe operation, proper maintenance and inspection, and the correction of the elevator’s code deficiencies. Although the Act allows the owner to assign the responsibilities to a lessee, it does not permit delegation or assignment to a service provider.

At trial, the defendants argued that the Act did not create a right of action by an injury victim against a property owner. However, Florida courts have held that the Act protects those using elevators from the elevator’s poor maintenance. In almost every situation, the passengers, for whom the statute was designed, have no input in the maintenance, repair, or safety of the elevator. Therefore, the responsibility of ensuring the elevator’s safety falls upon the owner. Thus, an owner’s failure to do so amounts to negligence per se.

The defendants argued that the evidence the plaintiff presented to oppose their motion for summary judgment was inadmissible. Specifically, the plaintiff’s testimony that an unknown employee in the building told him that the elevator was fixed. However, testimony from a doctor in the building established that no one tried to repair the problem. Therefore, the appellate court ultimately concluded it was a jury’s job to determine whether the defendant’s measures were reasonable and whether they safely maintained the elevator.

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

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries because of a property owner’s negligence, contact the dedicated premises liability attorneys at Friedman, Rodman, Frank & Estrada. The personal injury attorneys at our law firm have extensive experience successfully handling complicated accident claims stemming from car and truck collisions, defective products, slip and falls, and more. Contact our office at 877-448-8585, to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.

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