Florida Hotel Slip and Falls: What is the Victim’s Evidence Burden When Falling at Hotel and Trying to Recover Compensation?
Posted By Alan Sackrin on November 7, 2013
Last Update: 06/02/16
In the past, Florida was known among hotel owners, supermarket chains, and national stores (as well as insurance defense counsel and personal injury lawyers) as a great place for injury victims to file lawsuits based upon slip and fall injuries. That was because the burden of proof for plaintiffs under Florida law in these situations was lower than in many other states.
However, that burden of proof changed with the passage of Florida Statute 768.0755 (see our earlier post). This law changed the slip and fall lawsuit requirements from the plaintiff having to show only that a slip and fall had happened, to showing activity on the part of the defendant, as well.
Why? This law was passed by the Florida Legislature in response to outcries of unethical and frivolous slip and fall lawsuits being filed by plaintiffs by shifting some of the burden of proving what had happened in the fall injury circumstances from the defendant to the plaintiff.
Now, Florida hotel guests and resort visitors who slip and fall during their stay must spent more time and expense in proving up their claims in order to win their case and obtain monetary damages from the establishment whose actions (or inaction) caused them to be hurt. However, Florida Statute 768.0755 is not the only Florida law that applies to slip and fall injuries in Florida hotels and resorts, (like slip and fall injuries in showers, tubs, pools, hot tubs, lobbies, etc.), Florida common law created by Florida court cases (”precedent”) also applies under the theory of premises liability.
Premises Liability Damages for Hotel Slip and Fall Injuries under Florida Law – Basis for Injury Victim’s Legal Fight
Premises liability damages against Florida hotels can be awarded when it can be shown, through admissible evidence, that the floors have flaws in their construction or the floors haven’t been properly maintained. Floors that have too much wax, too much water (or other liquid, like ocean spray, pool cleaners, etc.), or slippery stuff like pineapple pieces dropped from a drink can form the factual basis for a premises liability claim against a Florida hotel when a hotel patron or resort guest slips and falls.
However, with the new statute and the increased burden of proof on the slip and fall injury victim, the injured party will often face a hotel defense attorney all too willing to fight against their claim.
One of their biggest tools: a motion early on in the case, for a “summary judgment,” arguing to the trial court judge that the plaintiff cannot meet the burden imposed under Florida Statute 768.0755 and therefore, the case should be dismissed. (No, it doesn’t matter how serious that injury might be and how much pain the victim is suffering or how much medical care and expense he or she may need now or in the future.)
Elizabeth Maria Slaats Hurt in Slip and Fall at Florida Hotel Pool — Fights and Wins Against Hotel Summary Judgment
This is exactly what happened to Elizabeth Maria Slaats a couple of years ago, when she fell on a step-down at a Florida hotel pool and was hurt as she was leaving the pool area. The hotel wouldn’t cover her injuries, and so Mrs. Slaats sued. At the trial court, the defense lawyers successfully moved for a “summary judgment” arguing that she had failed to meet her evidence / proof requirements under Florida law.
The trial court judge agreed with the defendants and the summary judgment was granted.
However, Mrs. Slaats wasn’t done with them.
She appealed that decision to the Florida court that reviews trial court decisions, and they agreed with her. The summary judgment was reversed, and the case went back to the courtroom for trial (or settlement).
Here is what that Florida appellate court wrote in the decision of Slaats v. Sandy Lane Residential, LLC:
The plaintiffs sued the defendants for injuries Mrs. Slaats sustained from a fall while exiting a hotel pool area. The plaintiffs claim the fall was caused by a step down which created a dangerous condition.
After some discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The defendants claimed that they had no liability because the step down was an open and obvious condition. In opposition to the motion, the plaintiffs filed the affidavit of an expert stating that the step down presented a unique, special hazard. The trial court agreed with the defendants, and entered summary judgment in their favor.
On appeal, the plaintiffs assert that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment for two reasons. First, the plaintiffs assert that discovery has yet to be completed. Secondly, the plaintiffs assert genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the step down presented a unique, special hazard….
Here, the plaintiffs presented some evidence that the step down created a dangerous condition. Specifically, Elizabeth testified that she was unable to see the step down because it was uniform in color and the afternoon sun was shining directly in her eyes. Further, the plaintiffs presented the affidavit of an architectural expert stating that the step down presented a unique, special hazard because the drop was hidden and unexpected. Thus, genuine issues of material fact remain unresolved which preclude summary judgment.
Accordingly, we reverse the summary judgment entered in favor of the defendants, and remand for further proceedings.
Reversed and remanded.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed in a slip and fall, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
- Slip/Trip and Falls in Florida
- What Type of Proof Do You Need for Your Florida Slip and Fall Claim?
- Proving a Slip and Fall Claim Against a Florida Hotel
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.