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A slip and fall victim has to prove an owner had notice of a dangerous condition in order to recover compensation

In Florida, the law established both by the Florida legislature as well as Florida case precedent (opinions by the courts) allows people who have been seriously injured from falling after slipping or tripping at places like a grocery store, hotel, or other business, to file a claim for monetary damages. This is possible because Florida’s premises liability law imposes certain responsibilities upon business and property owners. However, Florida law doesn’t make it easy for a victim to recover compensation.

3 Legal Issues Related To Why Slip and Fall Claims Are Hard To Win

However, having a property owner or the party in control of premises pay compensation is not automatic. In fact, there are evidentiary and statutory hurdles a victim has to overcome in order for the owner to be held responsible under Florida’s slip and fall laws. These evidentiary and statutory hurdles are what make it difficult for a slip and fall victim to win a claim in Florida.

1. The Plaintiff has to establish all 4 elements of negligence

In Florida, a plaintiff in a slip and fall files a lawsuit based upon negligence. Here, as explained in Westchester Exxon v. Valdes, 524 So.2d 452, 454 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988), the Plaintiff has the job to prove with admissible evidence the following things:

(1) a duty to the plaintiff;
(2) the defendant’s breach of that duty;
(3) injury to the plaintiff arising from the defendant’s breach; and
(4) damage caused by the injury to the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

2. The Plaintiff has to provide admissible evidence to support his or her claim

The injured victim must gather documentary evidence (accident report, paramedic report, etc.), video, witness testimony and even expert testimony that is admissible under Florida evidence law.  The owner does not have to prove anything until the injured person has met his or her burden of:

(1) before the defendant has to explain or show anything, the plaintiff has the “burden of proof” to prove the owner’s negligence with admissible evidence, which includes showing the owner had notice of the dangerous condition; and
(2) as explained by the Florida Supreme Court, in slip and fall injury cases “it must be shown that the owner negligently failed where the law, custom, or innate danger requires diligence.” (See Heps v. Burdine’s, Inc., 69 So.2d 340, 341-42 (Fla.1954).)

The type of proof needed also depends on the location of the slip and fall. Did the victim’s injury occur at a:

Each of these locations have conditons that are particular to there premises and those conditions must be addressed in order to prove the business owner, property owner or entity in control of the premises is negligent. For example, did the stairway have adequate lighting or did the grocery store routinely check its aisles for dangerous conditions?

3. Florida Statute Shifts The Burden To The Plaintiff

The Florida Legislature passed law that shifted this burden of proof to the plaintiff. The injured person has to show that the owner had notice — actual or constructive — that there was a dangerous situation on the property that might cause someone to fall. Florida Statutes 768.0755.

The issue of notice, is best illustrated in the Delgado slip and fall case.

As explained in in the case of Delgado v. Laundromax, the injured person failed to prove their case under Florida law where she had slipped on the floor of a laundromat, because (1) the plaintiff did not know where the water came from, (2) she did not see water “anywhere else other than where she slipped”, and (3) she did not know “how long the water was on the floor before she slipped” or (4) of anyone at the defendant’s operations “who knew the water was on the floor before she walked in”.

From the Delgado opinion:

We therefore agree with the trial court that the evidence in the record shows, to the exclusion of all permissible inferences, that Laundromax was not negligent. There is no evidence that Laundromax had actual notice of the liquid on the floor before Delgado fell. Therefore, Delgado was required to present some evidence Laundromax had constructive notice of the hazard. Because the mere presence of water on the floor is not enough to establish constructive notice, see Broz v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 546 So.2d 83, 83 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989), the record must contain additional facts in support of liability, to create a permissible inference upon which Delgado could rely in defense against Laundromax’s motion for summary judgment. See Winn Dixie Stores, Inc. v. White, 675 So.2d 702, 703 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).

There were, however, no additional facts presented that would support constructive notice. In fact, all the facts regarding the spill suggest that it was not on the floor for a long period of time prior to Delgado’s slip and fall. Cf. Cisneros v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 754 So.2d 819, 820 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000) (finding decisive, in reversing summary judgment, that plaintiff testified she observed “a few wheel tracks and several footprints had been made” in the pool of the substance in which she slipped); Newalk v. Fla. Supermarkets, Inc., 610 So.2d 528, 529 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992) (finding testimony that spots on the floor “appeared old,” was enough evidence to show notice); Teate v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 524 So.2d 1060, 1061 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988) (finding that where plaintiff slipped and fell on peas in store’s frozen food aisle, that water on the floor around the peas could support an inference the peas had been on the floor long enough to thaw).

For More About The Legal Issues Associated With Slip and Fall Claims, Read Our In Depth Article: Florida Slip And Fall Law
 

What Should You Do?

A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by a slip and fall, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can make slip and fall cases so hard to win, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and how to prove your damages. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.

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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.

 

 

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