Here in South Florida, slip and fall accidents caused by water are a common occurrence. That’s true for many reasons, including:
- It rains a lot in South Florida – floor mats are a must and sometimes a business owner forgets to put them out or fails to properly maintain them;
- We are located near the ocean – running in from the beach and dripping water onto the hotel room floor or on the sidewalk by the outside bar can cause the floor to become slippery;
- There’s lots of pools and spas – at hotels and condominiums – sometimes slip resistant materials (grab bars, floor strips, etc.) are either worn or not in use;
- We have a lot of restaurants and bars; and
- We have a lot of grocery stores and big box stores (like Walmart) – are these businesses routinely checking their property for dangerous conditions and warning patrons of these dangerous conditions?
However, just because slip and falls are a common occurrence doesn’t mean recovering damages (pain and suffering, lost wages, etc.) for a water caused slip and fall is an easy thing to do under Florida law. In fact, the opposite is true. That’s because each case must be evaluated using Florida Statute 768.0755 as a guide, which is a law designed to protect business owners and not injury victims.
What Does Florida Law Say About Water Caused Slip and Falls?
Under Florida law, business owners and operators must take reasonable steps to make sure that the people who are visiting their establishments (customers, guests, etc.) are protected from harm. This protection is required under Florida’s premises liability law, which says business owners have a duty to protect their customers and guests.
What Steps Should A Business Take To Protect Against A Slip and Fall Accident?
The legal duty imposed upon Florida business requires them to do things like providing floor mats or walking surfaces that are made to absorb water quickly or divert it away. The duty also requires the practice of putting out wet floor signs near walkways where there is water on the floor.
Simply stated, if these steps are not taken, then the failure to do so can be evidence that the business failed to fulfill its duty to exercise reasonable care in protecting customers and guests from harm.
Does A Motion For Summary Judgment Test The Limits To What A Business Must Do To Protect It’s Customers And Guests?
The legal protections due a customer or guest are not without limits. A business owner or operator does have rights and legal defenses it can raise against a water related slip and fall claim.
One way a business can protect itself is by arguing that, as a matter of law, the case against it should be dismissed because there is no evidence that the business owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the victim to slip and fall. This is done by filing a motion, or request, with the judge to enter a “summary judgment” in its favor.
Under Florida Statute 768.0755, the law requires that the injury victim provide evidence not only that they got hurt on the business premises, but that the business owner or operator had either (1) actual or (2) constructive knowledge about the dangerous condition, i.e., the water on the floor which caused the accident, and then it failed to exercise reasonable care by not taking steps (floor mat, wet floor warning sign) which then led to the victim’s slip and fall.
This can be difficult to do for an accident victim, because the law makes the victim prove up what the defendant knew about the water on the floor — it’s not up to the business to tell what it knew or didn’t know.
Defeating a Motion for Summary Judgment in a Water on the Floor Slip and Fall Case
One way that an accident victim can overcome a motion for summary judgment by a business in a water on the floor slip and fall case is by providing video or photos or witness statements that establish that there is at least a “genuine issue of material fact” on whether or not the business had knowledge of the water being on the floor.
Additionally, the accident victim can provide evidence, like maintenance logs, to show that the business didn’t take adequate steps to protect against dangerous conditions, like using or maintaining floor mats or using wet floor signs to warn customers of water being on the floor.
Or, the accident victim may be able to show that the business owner knew about the water on the floor through its employees and workers (from testimony of a waiter or stock person that he or she knew the water and didn’t warn anyone or forgot to get the “wet floor” sign) – thereby raising a “genuine issue of material fact” and preventing a summary judgment from being granted.
What Should You Do If You Were Injured In A Water Caused Slip and Fall And Are Facing A Motion For Summary Judgment?
Under Florida law, business owners have a legal duty to protect their patrons from harm — knowing this, most businesses have policies and procedures at the ready to defend themselves from liability and paying damages should an accident happen.
A slip and fall caused by water on the floor will be met with a vigorous defense — you can expect the business not only to point the finger at you, the victim, but the business will likely move for a summary judgment based on the fact that there is no evidence that the defendant knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the victim to fall.
A good piece of advice if you are facing a motion for summary judgment is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury trial lawyer before the hearing to learn about some of the issues that can arise during one of these hearings. Business owners, and their insurance companies, have tendencies and have a set method of dealing with these claims. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.