Last Update: 3/15/22
As a general rule, under Florida’s premises liability law restaurants are liable for any negligence-related injuries suffered by their customers or guests. This includes accidents happening anywhere on the business premises, from the parking lot to the dining room, as well as the bathrooms.
Quick Tip: The Average Slip And Fall Settlement In Florida Is $30,000.00 (Details)
Court Cases Involving Restaurant Bathroom Slip and Fall Claims
Over the years, there have been many different types of restaurant slip and fall claims made by customers. Of course, the restaurants and their insurance adjusters (or defense attorney) try and limit liability or even deny responsibility for these claims. This is true despite being reminded by their insurance carrier that they must act reasonably by taking certain precautionary measures to protect their invitees and avoid these claims.
Here are three examples of victims who filed a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for their injuries based upon a slip and fall in a Florida restaurant bathroom:
1. The Case of Liquid Soap Leaking on the Restaurant’s Restroom Floor
John Reid and his wife went out to eat at their local Sambo’s Restaurant, and John took the opportunity to visit the restroom there. In the restaurant bathroom, there was a soap dispenser installed on the wall that was manufactured by Georgia-Pacific.
The manufacturer’s instructions that came with the soap dispenser included the direction to use only Georgia-Pacific soap in the Georgia-Pacific dispenser. The Georgia-Pacific soap was easy to spot: it was pink.
When John went into the Sambo’s Restaurant restroom, he slipped on soap on the floor and fell. John was hurt in the slip and fall accident.
John and his wife presented accident claims to Sambo’s Restaurant, but the restaurant refused to negotiate a settlement. The Reids were forced to file a personal injury lawsuit, which included Sambo’s Restaurant, Georgia-Pacific Corporation, and the distributor of the soap dispenser, Environmental Services, Inc.
The jury awarded the couple $1.2 Million against Sambo’s and Georgia-Pacific. The jury did not find the distributor to be negligent. Georgia-Pacific appealed the verdict.
At trial, there was evidence presented that the soap on the floor that caused John Reid to lose his footing was not pink, like the Georgia-Pacific liquid soap, but bluish-green. John Reid explained that this blue-green liquid soap had leaked from the soap dispenser onto the restaurant bathroom floor.
The appellate court ruled that Georgia-Pacific did not know that Sambo’s Restaurant had substituted the bluish-green liquid soap for the Georgia-Pacific brand. Accordingly, using the strongest inference available for the plaintiffs under the evidence, it held that Sambo was legally liable for the misuse of Georgia-Pacific’s soap dispenser.
As to the argument that there was any duty to warn on the part of Georgia-Pacific to anyone using its soap dispenser that liquid soap is slippery, this was dismissed by the appeals court as an unnecessary warning, since” [t]hat is simply common sense.”
To read the case in its entirety, see Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. Reid, 501 So. 2d 653 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1986).
2. The Case of the Mysterious Wet Floor and the Warning Sign
Agnes Doran was enjoying a meal at Red Lobster when she went to use the restaurant restroom. Agnes slipped and fell in the restroom and was hurt in the accident. She filed an injury claim against Red Lobster, but the restaurant did not admit to being liable for the accident. So, Agnes Doran filed a lawsuit based upon Florida premises liability law against the owner and operator of the restaurant.
Before the case, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The trial judge agreed with Red Lobster: Agnes had failed to prove her case. Agnes appealed that decision to the reviewing court, and the appellate judges sent the case back to be tried. They agreed with Agnes.
The controversy here was in the evidence provided regarding what happened in the restroom. No one disputed that Agnes had fallen there, and had been hurt. The dispute arose over whether or not the restroom floor was wet at the time she slipped and fell.
Red Lobster contended that the bathroom floor was dry at the time of the accident. The restaurant manager testified that she checked out the condition of the restroom floor at the time of the accident. In her inspection, she found the floor was not wet, as Agnes claimed.
The manager also testified that at the time of the accident, Mrs. Doran blamed the fall on her shoes.
Contrarily, Agnes Doran testified that this was not true: she did not attribute her slipping on the floor as being caused by her shoes. Agnes also testified that she thought the floor was wet at the time of the accident. She did concede that she did not notice any water on the restroom floor either before or after she fell down.
There were other witnesses who shed some light here. No one could provide evidence that the floor was indeed wet at the time of the incident. However, one witness did testify that she was watching as the paramedics arrived at Red Lobster, and they had to move a yellow warning sign which as best she could remember had the warning “wet floor” or “be careful” on it. This sign was on the floor in the area of the Red Lobster where Mrs. Doran fell.
Since there were disputes over whether or not the floor was wet at the time, the case was returned so a jury could make its final decision (if the parties didn’t settle first).
For more on how shoes can be a key element in a slip and fall accident, read: Are You Negligent If You Wear High Heels And You Slip And Fall?
3. The Case of Inferences Supporting Circumstantial Knowledge of the Toilet Paper Roll
According to the restaurant manager in this case, Grady’s opened each day for lunch at 11:00 a.m. and the public restrooms were checked every thirty minutes. As for cleaning the restrooms, the standard procedure was for the restrooms to be thoroughly cleaned at the end of the lunch hour shift, or around 1:30 p.m. each afternoon.
Genevieve Barbour was having a late lunch when she excused herself to visit the restaurant’s restroom. There were several other patrons in the restaurant, maybe two or three other tables were being served lunch that day.
There was no dispute that no one else entered the restroom before her.
It was a little after 2:30 p.m. that day. Genevieve slipped and fell on the restroom floor just as she was entering.
She testified that as she took a step, something on the floor rolled out from under her feet. She did not see what she slipped on as she was losing her balance and falling down. Genevieve explained this was apparently a roll of toilet paper, with the roller mechanism still inside the cardboard core. The toilet paper roll, with the rolling mechanism, was lying on the floor near her.
Genevieve also noticed a metal toilet paper dispenser there in the restroom that locked with a key. The dispenser was open about one and one-half inches. It did not have its roller.
Genevieve got up, placed the toilet paper roll on the restroom counter so no one else would trip over it, and went back to her table. She told the wait staff; they got the restaurant manager. In turn, the manager called for an ambulance to help Genevieve, and she was taken by ambulance from Grady’s to the hospital.
The manager checked out the restroom floor. He testified that he saw nothing else on the restroom floor. He testified he only found the roll of toilet paper, and not the mechanism, sitting on the counter. He also testified that if an employee found something on the bathroom floor, they were instructed to pick it up.
He also testified at trial that he could not remember who the server was who checked the restroom after Genevieve Barbour’s fall; he could not remember, and did not attempt to ascertain, which server or servers were responsible for cleaning and checking the restroom throughout the day; and he did not completely fill out the required incident report in which he stated that Genevieve Barbour walked out of the restaurant, when in fact she was carried out on a backboard and stretcher.
In discovery, the restaurant company, Brinker, responded to the request for names of the waitpersons who were working at the time of the accident, by giving Genevieve Barbour a list of 57 employees, even though the manager testified that only six to eight were working at the time.
At the emergency room, Genevieve was found to have multiple bruises, shoulder and hip pain, and a sprained wrist. She presented a demand for damages, which was denied by Grady’s, which was part of a chain owned by Brinker, Inc. So Genevieve sued them under Florida premises liability law.
At trial, the key element was the knowledge on the part of the restaurant regarding that toilet paper roll and roller mechanism on the restroom floor. The manager testified that the cleaning service and the servers were both responsible for filling the toilet paper dispensers. These dispensers could only be opened if you knew how to do so. Members of the general public probably would not know how to get them open; the dispensers locked with a key.
The case went to trial. The jury verdict was for the slip and fall victim, and the restaurant appealed. The restaurant lost the appeal.
Knowledge of the Toilet Paper Roll
On appeal, the focus went to the standard procedure of the restaurant in inspecting and maintaining the restroom. Under the procedure, the restrooms were checked every thirty minutes. It could be inferred that the restroom would have been checked at approximately 2:30 p.m.
Under this scenario, the toilet paper roll should not have been on the floor when Barbour entered the restroom.
As for someone else being involved here, there was no dispute that no one entered the restroom beside the accident victim. The jury could have inferred that Grady’s employees failed to inspect the restroom at 2:30 p.m. — or that an inspection was done and the employee failed to pick up the roller mechanism and toilet paper roll. Thus, the toilet paper roll was on the floor longer than the time between reasonable spaced inspections.
The appellate court pointed out that the restaurant had two legal duties to protect its invitee, Genevieve, from the harmful effects of dangerous conditions:
First, the restaurant must ascertain that the premises are reasonably safe for invitees, which includes the responsibility to use reasonable care to acquire actual knowledge of any dangerous conditions. This duty is breached when a restaurant fails to make a reasonably diligent search or inspection at reasonable intervals of time.
Second, the restaurant has an entirely different legal duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions of which the restaurant has actual knowledge. If a reasonable inspection would have revealed the dangerous condition in question, and if the dangerous condition existed prior to the injury a length of time in excess of the time between reasonably spaced inspections, then the trier of fact should find that the possessor neglected his duty and is liable for any injury legally caused by that neglect.
In the instant case, there was no direct evidence that Brinker had actual knowledge of the toilet paper roll and roller mechanism being on the restroom floor.
However, there was evidence of circumstantial knowledge on the part of the restaurant. This included:
- the toilet paper dispensers were under the exclusive control of Brinker;
- photographs of the type of dispenser in use at the time of the accident;
- two witnesses’ testimony that a key was needed to unlock the dispenser;
- the victim’s testimony that she found the dispenser open immediately after her fall;
- the victim’s testimony that she picked up the toilet paper roll with the roller mechanism still inside the cardboard roller from the floor inside the restroom stall;
- the victim’s testimony that the dispenser was missing one roll;
- the absence of the roll itself in evidence;
- the absence of any photographs of the bathroom, the stalls, the dispensers, etc., at the time of the accident;
- the testimony of Grady’s manager that he could not remember who the server was who checked the restroom after Barbour’s fall,
- the testimony of Grady’s manager that he could not remember and did not attempt to ascertain which server or servers were responsible for cleaning and checking the restroom throughout the day; and
- the testimony of Grady’s manager that he did not completely fill out the required incident report in which he stated that Barbour walked out of the restaurant, when in fact she was carried out on a backboard and stretcher.
It was up to the jury to decide the knowledge of the restaurant. The jury disbelieved the manager when he testified he only found the roll of toilet paper, and not the mechanism, sitting on the counter where Barbour had placed it.
We know this because if the manager’s version had been accepted, no liability should have been assessed against the restaurant. It is reasonable for an establishment to leave extra rolls of toilet paper out for customers’ use. In everyday experience, this is a common and expected occurrence.
Another factor here was the missing toilet paper roll and rolling mechanism. They were never placed into evidence.
The jury could have considered the failure to safeguard the toilet paper roll and the rolling mechanism after the accident as significant. It went to the manager’s lack of credibility since this was his failure to follow company policy after an incident on the premises. His credibility was also tarnished by the lack of pictures of the bathroom or the dispensers when he could have photographed the accident scene.
The jury also didn’t buy the manager’s version of things when he could not remember who the server was who checked the restroom after Barbour’s fall, could not remember and did not attempt to ascertain which server or servers were responsible for cleaning and checking the restroom throughout the day, and did not completely fill out the required incident report in which he stated that Barbour walked out of the restaurant, when in fact she was carried out on a backboard and stretcher.
Finally, when asked who the server was who was working during the time of Barbour’s fall, Brinker gave Barbour a list of fifty-seven employees when the manager testified that only six to eight were working and that Brinker’s payroll records would show what time the employees arrived and departed from Grady’s.
Inferences Support Finding of Constructive Knowledge
These various inferences by the jury were not an impermissible stacking of inferences. They were sufficient to find there was constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition because the jury had ample, admitted evidence upon which to make inferences. See Johnson v. Dicks, 76 So.2d 657, 661 (Fla.1954).
To read the case in its entirety, see Barbour v. Brinker Florida, Inc., 801 So. 2d 953 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2001).
Florida Slip and Fall Accident Lawyer
An important element in winning a slip and fall claim is being able to prove the owner or operator of the restaurant had knowledge of a dangerous condition and did not act timely, or did not act all, to remedy the condition. Proving these elements can be difficult to do, but not impossible. Video surveillance, witness testimony, maintenance records can be helpful in this process, but don’t expect the restaurant to be cooperative.
If you or a loved one were injured in an accident involving a slip and fall in a Florida restaurant bathroom, then a good piece of advice it to speak with an experienced 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 evaluate your claim and 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.
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