Negligence Per Se in Florida Escalator Injury Case

In a 2010 case, a woman appealed from a judgment entered after directed verdict in a personal injury case. The woman had sued an elevator corporation and Miami Dade County after she fell on an escalator at the airport. She claimed the escalator had stopped abruptly. She had fallen. The escalator had been reported as not working just hours before her fall.

There was no record of a technician checking the escalator and also no record of repair work performed on the escalator. When the case went to trial, the court excluded evidence that there had been previous problems with the escalator and also denied the plaintiff’s request that the jury be instructed on negligence per se. The defense attorney was permitted to argue there was no evidence of prior problems over the plaintiff’s objection.

The plaintiff’s doctor testified that the plaintiff would require back surgery in the future, but the trial court wouldn’t allow the doctor to give an opinion about future surgery because he was not a surgeon.

At the end of the plaintiff’s case, the company and the county moved for a directed verdict in their favor. The trial court reserved on ruling on the case. Afterward, the jury found in favor of the woman, finding the county and company each 20% liable. But the trial court entered directed verdicts and found insufficient evidence of negligence.

The plaintiff appealed. She argued there was an error in setting aside the jury verdict and directing a verdict for the defendants. The defendants argued that the trial court had correctly found in their favor over the jury verdict. The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff.

The appellate court reviewed de novo, meaning they considered the evidence and all appropriate inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the part that didn’t move for directed verdict. The plaintiff had presented evidence showing the county and company knew the escalator in question had stopped running on the day of her fall. No evidence was presented of repair work. The jury could reasonably infer from this that the county and company had failed to examine the escalator to determine what the problem was. The woman’s injuries were directly caused by the escalator’s surprising stop.

The appellate court also found the trial court had committed an error in failing to give an instruction on negligence per se in favor of the plaintiff and overruling the plaintiff’s objection to the defendant’s closing argument that there was no evidence of prior problems. It was improper for the defense attorney to get evidence excluded and then criticize the plaintiff for producing evidence that had been excluded.

The court also found that the trial court should not have excluded the doctor’s opinion about future surgery. The doctor had testified he often refers patients for surgery and he was a treating physician. He was not an expert witness, so he did not need to be an expert back surgeon in order to testify that he believed the plaintiff would need future surgery.

If you have been hurt due to another person or entity’s negligence, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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