Articles Posted in Slip And Fall

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When a plaintiff files a premises liability lawsuit in Florida, the case will go through several stages before it goes to trial. One of the more important stages in most premises liability lawsuits is the summary judgment phase. Summary judgment is a motion that a party can file, asking the court to rule in its favor because they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Wet FloorIn order for a summary judgment motion to be appropriate, the moving party must establish that the opposing party cannot succeed, even if all credibility conflicts are resolved in the opposing party’s favor. In Florida, summary judgment is appropriate when there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

Thus, during a defendant’s summary judgment motion, the judge must assume that all plaintiff witnesses are credible. If, after assessing the evidence, there is no way that the non-moving party can be successful, summary judgment is appropriate, and the case will be dismissed. However, if an issue of fact is present, summary judgment is not appropriate. A recent case illustrates this process.

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Earlier this month, the District Court of Appeal of Florida’s Second District issued a written opinion analyzing and applying one of the state’s more interesting rules of evidence. The case required the court to discuss Florida Statute 90.407, which deals with the introduction of evidence that a defendant took subsequent remedial measures to remedy a hazard alleged to have caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

Cracks in PavementWhat Is a Subsequent Remedial Measure?

Assume that an infant’s toy contains a piece that may be a choking hazard, and once the product is released to market, several infants choke on the toy, and their parents file lawsuits against the toy’s manufacturer. After the manufacturer hears of the potential hazard and the pending lawsuits, the manufacturer redesigns the toy, eliminating the piece that created the choking hazard. Should the parents involved in the pending lawsuit be able to present evidence of the manufacturer’s redesign to show that the manufacturer knew the original design was dangerous?

Florida Statute 90.407 governs these situations. The act of redesigning the toy was a subsequent remedial action taken by the toy manufacturer. As a general rule, evidence of subsequent remedial actions is not permitted to show that the party taking the action was negligent. This is to encourage parties to fix potential hazards without fear of conceding liability. However, there are exceptions when evidence of subsequent remedial actions may be admissible at trial. A recent case illustrates one such example.

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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.

Wet FloorFlorida’s Summary Judgment Standard

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.

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Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that involved a discussion of the required elements of a Florida premises liability lawsuit. In the case, which involved a woman’s slip-and-fall accident that occurred in a bank parking lot, the court ultimately found in favor of the plaintiff. Specifically, the court held that even though the hazard allegedly causing the plaintiff’s fall was obvious, summary judgment in favor of the defendant was improper.

Pin PadThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a customer of the defendant bank. When the plaintiff went to make a deposit through the drive-up window and noticed that the bank was closed, she decided to make her deposit through the Automated Teller Machine (ATM). As the plaintiff approached the ATM, she noticed that the area around the ATM was under construction with a barricade a few feet in front of the ATM.

According to the plaintiff, there was a sign on the barricade with an arrow, instructing patrons to walk around the barricade to reach the ATM. The plaintiff attempted to negotiate her way around the barricade, but stepped in a “pot hole”, causing her to fall. She sustained injuries to her foot, leg, neck, and back.

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Almost every type of lawsuit has a time limit within which the case must be filed to be considered timely. These time limits, more commonly referred to as statutes of limitations, provide certainty to those who are involved in an accident and believe that they may face liability. However, statutes of limitations are strictly enforced and can often result in meritorious cases being dismissed for no other reason than the plaintiff filing the lawsuit too late.

RollerbladersOne of the issues that arises with statutes of limitations is determining which one applies. In most states, including Florida, there are different statutes of limitations for different types of lawsuits. For example, in Florida, the statute of limitations for general negligence cases is four years. However, for medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is just two years. In cases alleging the negligence of a government employee or entity, the statute of limitations is three years. Furthermore, when a case is filed against a government entity, additional procedures must be followed, or the case will not be considered timely and may be rejected.

The plaintiff in a recent premises liability case learned these lessons the hard way when an appellate court dismissed her case for being filed past the applicable statute of limitations.

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Landowners have a duty to maintain their property so that it is safe for those whom they invite onto their property. When someone is injured on a landowner’s property, the injured party may be able to seek financial compensation for their injuries from the landowner through a premises liability lawsuit. There are various levels, or standards, of care that a landowner has, depending on the landowner’s relationship with the injured party. For example, the highest duty is owed to an invitee, who is someone that the landowner invites onto their land for business purposes. Most premises liability cases involve duties owed to invitees.

BathtubBefore an injured party is permitted to recover from the landowner, the injured party must prove several elements. Generally speaking, these elements are:

  • That the defendant owned the land where the plaintiff was injured;
  • That the defendant was negligent in maintaining the land;
  • That the plaintiff was injured; and
  • That the plaintiff’s injury was caused at least in part by the defendant’s negligence.

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Business owners have a duty to maintain safe premises for their customers. Generally speaking, this means making sure that any area that customers can access is free of dangerous conditions that could cause an injury. When a business is lax in this duty, and a person is injured while on a business owner’s property, they may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries they sustained.

Cut WatermelonTo be eligible for compensation after a slip-and-fall accident, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant business was negligent. This can be done in a number of ways. Most often, this is proven through showing either that the defendant caused the dangerous condition to arise or that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that gave rise to the plaintiff’s accident. A recent case illustrates these two methods of establishing liability.

Edwards v. Hy-Vee:  The Facts

Edwards was a shopper at a grocery store owned by Hy-Vee. On her way out of the store, she slipped and fell, injuring herself. When she got up, she saw remnants of watermelon, as well as a watermelon seed stuck to the bottom of her shoe. She also noticed that an employee was handing out samples about six feet away. She filed a premises liability case against Hy-Vee, seeking compensation for her injuries.

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Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion dealing with governmental immunity as it applies to slip-and-fall cases occurring on government land. In the case, Kozak v. City of Lincoln Park, the court discussed the “highway exception” to the general rule that government agencies are not liable for injuries caused on their land or by their employees.

Leaves on SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

Mrs. Kozak was crossing the street in Lincoln Park when she tripped on a raised portion of the road. According to the court’s written opinion, there were two concrete slabs that met in the middle of the street. Where those two slabs met, there was about a three-inch height differential between the two slabs because they did not line up perfectly.

Kozak filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City of Lincoln Park, claiming that the City was liable for her injuries because it failed to fix the dangerous condition where the two concrete slabs met. In response to Kozak’s claims, the City asserted its governmental immunity, claiming that the road was reasonably safe. In support of its position, the City had the Director of Public Services testify that in his opinion, the roadway was safe.

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Earlier this month, a woman who broke her ankle after slipping and falling on ice outside a Marriott hotel had her case reversed based on an error the trial judge made while instructing the jury. In the case, Alcala v. Marriott International, the court held that the jury’s general verdict finding the defendant negligent had to be reversed because two of the four theories of liability provided to the jury were based on improper instructions. As a result, the plaintiff will need to try the case all over again.

Snowy WalkwayAlcala v. Marriott International:  The Facts

Alcala was on a business trip staying at a Marriott hotel. During her stay, as she was exiting the hotel, she slipped on a sidewalk outside one of the hotel’s main exits. As a result of her fall, she sustained a broken ankle. She then filed a premises liability lawsuit against Marriott, claiming the company was negligent.

The plaintiff claimed that Marriott was negligent in several ways. First, its employees were not properly trained to handle icy walkways. Second, the company was negligent for failing to inspect the sidewalk. Third, the company was negligent for failing to safely maintain the sidewalk. Finally, the company was negligent for failing to use slip-resistant materials when constructing the sidewalk.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Maine dismissed a premises liability case against a city government because the plaintiff failed to notify the government being sued within 180 days of his injury. In the case, Deschenes v. City of Sanford, the court determined that the plaintiff’s verbal notification that he was going to file the lawsuit was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the state’s Tort Claims Act.

stairs-1215277The Plaintiff Fell Outside City Hall

The plaintiff was visiting city hall to obtain a copy of his daughter’s birth certificate when he tripped on some raised tread and fell down the stairs. After falling down the stairs, he slid into a set of glass doors and was injured as a result. City employees at the scene provided the man with some basic medical care until the ambulance arrived and could take him to the hospital. Upon arrival, it was discovered that he had not suffered serious or life-threatening injuries, although he did have a few “abrasions.”

The plaintiff did nothing for the first 177 days following the accident. However, on the 178th day, he again went to city hall, this time to inform the government that he would be filing a lawsuit against them for failing to maintain safe premises. However, when he arrived, all the doors were closed. He was able to speak with one employee, and he informed that employee that he would be filing a personal injury lawsuit. A few weeks later, the city received formal notice that the plaintiff had filed a lawsuit.

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