Florida Federal Court Discusses Constructive Notice in Premises Liability Case: Feliciano v. Target Corp.

In Feliciano v. Target Corp., a woman was allegedly injured when she slipped and fell on a clear liquid while visiting an Estero department store. According to the woman, she failed to notice the notebook-sized pool of liquid on the floor because she was looking ahead, and it was obscured by her shopping cart. In addition, the woman claimed that there was no indication that anyone had noticed or stepped in the liquid prior to her fall. After the woman was injured, a store employee apparently took her statement regarding the incident and then cleaned up the spilled liquid.

About six months after her fall, the woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the department store seeking damages for her purported injuries. In her complaint, she accused the store of maintaining the premises in a negligent manner and failing to warn her of the allegedly dangerous condition. The department store responded by filing a motion for summary judgment. A party that files such a motion is asking a court to rule in their favor because the undisputed facts of the case demonstrate that the party is entitled to judgment based on current law. According to the department store, the business was entitled to summary judgment because the woman offered no evidence to suggest store employees were aware of or should have known about the spill that caused her fall.

In order to prevail on a premises liability claim in Florida, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a property owner owed the plaintiff a duty to maintain a building, parking lot, or other location that an invitee may visit in a reasonably safe physical condition, the property owner breached that duty, and the property owner’s breach caused the plaintiff’s harm. A property owner is also required to warn invitees of any hazards the property owner knows about or should be aware of. Section 768.0755(1) of the Florida Statutes places the burden on a premises liability plaintiff to prove that a property owner had “actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition” and failed to remedy it. Constructive knowledge may be demonstrated using circumstantial evidence that a property owner failed to inspect the premises for long periods of time. It may also arise when a particular dangerous condition happens with regularity. The mere presence of a spill on a floor in a business, however, is not sufficient to establish constructive knowledge.

According to the Middle District of Florida, the injured woman failed to prove the department store had any knowledge of the spill that caused her fall. Actual notice was not at issue because it was undisputed that store workers were not aware of the liquid on the floor. Additionally, the woman failed to offer any evidence that the store had constructive notice of the allegedly dangerous condition. In fact, the woman’s description of the spill as seemingly untouched, along with her own testimony that she had not witnessed debris or other fall hazards on any of her monthly trips to the same store, demonstrated the exact opposite. Although store policy requires all workers to be trained to inspect the store and correct any potentially dangerous conditions such as spills on an ongoing basis, the injured woman offered no evidence that workers neglected to do so. Since the injured woman failed to plead sufficient facts to support her premises liability case under Florida law, the court granted the department store’s motion for summary judgment and issued a ruling in the store’s favor.

If you were injured in South Florida due to someone else’s negligent act, you should have a knowledgeable personal injury attorney on your side to help you protect your rights. To discuss your injury case with a hardworking premises liability attorney, please contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Feliciano v. Target Corp., Dist. Court, MD Florida 2014

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