Recently, a Florida court of appeals issued an interesting opinion in a slip-and-fall case that has relevance for any personal injury plaintiff because it discusses how lower courts should handle plaintiffs’ expert testimony at summary judgment proceedings. The appellate court ultimately held that it is improper for a trial court to make a credibility determination when hearing a motion for summary judgment. Instead, the court should consider all of the presented evidence and only grant a defense motion for summary judgment if there is no issue of material fact.
In Florida, before a case is sent to trial before a jury, either party can move for summary judgment. Summary judgment is an opportunity for a party to have a judge enter a verdict in their favor based on the pleadings alone. In a defense motion for summary judgment, a judge will consider the plaintiff’s allegations as true and then determine if the plaintiff would be entitled to relief. If so, the defense motion for summary judgment is denied. However, if, even after considering all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s claim is insufficient, the motion will be granted.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff slipped and fell in a condominium complex owned by the defendant. The slip-and-fall accident occurred when the plaintiff stepped in a puddle of oil. The plaintiff estimated that the puddle was about a quarter of an inch deep and about four feet by five feet. No one knew exactly how long the oil had been leaking; however, an elevator technician who was called after the accident testified that the leak was dripping at a rate of one drop every two seconds.
The plaintiff called an expert witness, who was a mechanical engineer. The expert considered the size of the puddle and the rate at which the leak was dripping, and he estimated that the leak had started at least 24 hours prior to the plaintiff’s fall.
The trial court determined that the plaintiff’s expert was not credible and did not consider his testimony. The court explained that the expert was not an “elevator expert” and that his opinion was “weak.” After making this determination, the court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing that it was improper for the trial court to make a credibility determination in a summary judgment proceeding. The appellate court agreed, explaining that the court should not have engaged in a weighing of a witness’ credibility during the summary judgment stage.
Have You Been Injured in an Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Regardless of the type of injury you sustained, it is possible that you will face a defense summary judgment motion. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Cohn & Smith have decades of experience helping injured clients pursue the compensation they deserve. Call 954-431-8100 to schedule your free consultation with an experienced attorney today.
Related Blog Posts:
Florida Appellate Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement Signed by Nursing Home Resident’s Daughter, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, March 27, 2017.
Court Permits Wrongful Death Plaintiff’s Case to Proceed after Applying the “Last Clear Chance Doctrine”, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, April 4, 2017.