Understanding Slip and Fall Laws in Florida
When most shoppers walk through stores, they are there for a purpose. Browsing the aisles or looking for a particular item can take a customer’s eyes off of the ground in front of them, which can result in a slip and fall if there is a substance in their path that goes unnoticed until shortly before they are laying on the ground with an injury. There are even situations involving clear liquids or slippery floors that aren’t wet that can cause someone to badly hurt themselves by slipping and falling to the floor. Florida has laws that purport to protect store customers who become injured due to the negligence of the property owner, but we think it important to go a little deeper into the subject and explain exactly which situations give rise to a successful claim for damages with regard to a slip and fall accident.
As we stated previously, when a plaintiff brings a claim against a property owner due to a slip and fall injury, he or she is doing so under a theory of negligence. Negligence requires that the plaintiff prove that the property owner owed the customer a duty and subsequently breached that duty. A successful claim of negligence further requires that the plaintiff be injured. Florida law does not require that the injuries be strictly physical, as it is possible that someone also incur financial injuries, such as lost wages or loss of future earnings that stem from their physical injuries. Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that the breach of the duty owed to him or her both actually and proximately caused their injuries.
Establishing a Duty and a Breach
Florida law specifically speaks to the level of duty that is owed to a customer. If a person enters a property in order to conduct business (such as a customer coming into a store), the customer is deemed to be an invitee. An invitee is afforded the most protection as compared to social guests or trespassers. Property owners are required to keep the areas that are opened to customers free of any potential defect that could cause injury. Until recently, case law and statute dictated that an employee did not have to even have actual awareness of the dangerous circumstance to be liable. To be successful, the plaintiff only had to prove that the property/business owner did not exercise reasonable care in the upkeep of their premises. But a revision to Florida premises liability statutes in 2013 now places an increased burden on the plaintiff and could prevent some slip and fall victims from recovering for their injuries.
Florida Statute § 768.0755 changed the rules of slip and fall liability claims by requiring that a plaintiff prove that a property or business owner not only acted unreasonably in the upkeep of his or her property, but also that he or she knew (actually or constructively) that there was a dangerous condition that could pose a safety concern. Actual knowledge is self-explanatory, as it requires that the business or property owner knew of a spill, leak or other instance of a danger that could cause a slip and fall. Constructive knowledge imputes knowledge upon a business or property owner and can be proven using inference. For instance, a business owner may be deemed to have constructive knowledge of a spill if there was liquid in an area that liquid frequently gathered or was spilled. Also, constructive knowledge can be imputed in instances where the spill or instance of liquid creating a dangerous slip and fall situation was present for an extended period of time and should have been detected by an employee.
As stated above, inference can typically be used to establish that a business or property owner knew or should have known, or even caused a hazard that could lead to a slip and fall. But the amended state law regarding slip and falls also discusses the use of inferences and states that inferences can only be used at the exclusion of any other reasonable possible cause of the slip and fall. Through application of the updated legislation, courts have found that the fact that a nearby employee in a store was using a high-powered floor waxing machine could not be used to provide an inference that floor wax was the cause of a customer’s injuries when she slipped and fell but was unable to identify the substance that contributed to her fall. Thus, it is imperative that a detailed investigation occurs quickly after the slip and fall incident to ensure that all possible causes of the fall are taken into consideration.
Damages and Causation
When a person slips and falls, physical injury is typically the primary harm that is suffered. Although medical bills associated with injury are obvious, there are less obvious types of harm that are completely recoverable if negligence is proven. For instance, if a slip and fall victim incurs pain and suffering or is unable to work because of his or her injury, a monetary damage award may be appropriate. Furthermore, because plaintiffs are said to be “taken as they are found”, eggshell plaintiff rules may allow a an injured party in a slip and fall to recover for the re-aggravation of preexisting injuries.
Once damages are established, the plaintiff must link them to the breach of the duty that was owed to them. First, a plaintiff must prove that their damages were actually caused by the breach of the duty. This is typically established through the use of a “but-for” test: but for the negligent of the conduct, the plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred. For instance, if an grocery store customer slipped on a wet floor, but suffered no injuries, but was struck by a negligent driver outside of the store shortly after leaving, the injuries that were sustained would not be considered to have actually been caused by the property owner’s behavior with regard to the slipping incident. Lastly, a plaintiff must prove that the damages incurred were a foreseeable result of the negligent conduct of the defendant. The primary question to be asked here is whether the harm that was done to the plaintiff was the type of harm that was foreseeable at the time of the negligent conduct of the defendant.
As any reader can tell, a complete negligence analysis with regard to a slip and fall case is extensive and complex. If you or a loved one was involved in a slip and fall accident and suffered injuries, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Furthermore, many store owners or business employees will attempt to compensate customers who fall because of a slippery floor to entice them to sign a release of liability. It is in your best interest to not sign such a release without speaking with an experienced attorney about the incident. Contact the Pendas Law Firm to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. You may contact us online for a confidential consultation on your case in Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach or the Jacksonville areas.