Summary Judgment Upheld in South Florida Premises Liability Case

In an unpublished opinion, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an order granting summary judgment to a department store in a premises liability case. According to his complaint, a man supposedly injured his right eye when he walked into a clothing rack that was protruding into an aisle at a South Florida department store in late 2011. The man apparently struck the rack with enough force to fall backwards and hit his head. After his fall, store workers reportedly escorted the man to a customer service area, where a guest incident form was completed. In addition, one of the employees took photos of the clothing rack at issue.

After seeking medical treatment, the man filed a negligence action against the department store in a Florida state court. The case was then removed to federal court based on diversity of citizenship. In his complaint, the man accused the department store of breaching its duty of reasonable care by failing to warn him of the hazard created by the placement of the clothing rack. The man also asserted that the store knew or should have known about the dangerous condition prior to his accident. The man asked the court to award him damages for his resulting vision loss, light sensitivity, headaches, and seizures.

The department store responded to the premises liability lawsuit by arguing it was not required to provide customers with any warning about the allegedly dangerous condition because it was open and obvious. The department store also claimed the man caused his own harm. Following discovery, the store filed a motion for summary judgment. In general, a motion for summary judgment may be granted when there are no material facts in dispute and one party to a lawsuit is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

In response to the store’s motion, the hurt man claimed the department store was negligent under the “mode of operation” theory. The department store countered that the man improperly raised a new theory of negligence in his response and also argued the assertion was without merit. Next, the district court granted the department store’s motion and dismissed the case. Instead of filing a motion for reconsideration or amending his complaint, the hurt man filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the court first discussed the difference between the negligent “mode of operation” theory and the allegations pleaded in the injured man’s complaint. The appellate court then stated the lower court correctly found that the summary judgment stage was too late for the man to raise a new theory of liability because the store was not provided with fair notice. Instead, the court said the man should have sought to amend his complaint in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if he intended to pursue the “mode of operation” theory in support of his negligence cause of action.

Since the lower court correctly held the man’s negligent “mode of operation” theory was not properly raised, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the department store.

If you were injured due to a Miami property owner’s negligent act, you should discuss your rights with an experienced South Florida personal injury attorney as soon as you are able. To speak with a caring Broward County premises liability lawyer today, give the hardworking advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Cacciamani v. Target Corp., Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2015

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