When someone is injured in a slip or trip and fall in a grocery store in Miami or the surrounding areas of Florida, they can suffer painful debilitating injuries, such as fractures, head injuries or back injuries. While those who fall because of a damp floor or a “transitory foreign substance” might be legally entitled to money as compensation, these cases require a careful investigation and analysis of the facts. The Florida Supreme Court defined the phrase “transitory foreign substance” in Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So.2d 315, 317 (Fla. 2001) as “any liquid or solid substance, object or item located where it does not belong.” The Owen decision essentially created a rebuttable presumption that a premises owner had failed to maintain his or her property in a reasonably safe condition if a transitory foreign substance was present on the floor. However, the law has shifted since this decision, so a skilled and experienced Miami slip and fall attorney is essential to gather the evidence to prevail in these fact intensive cases. Think of it this way. No store owner is responsible for following every customer to insure that they do not spill something which might cause another to fall. That burden is too high. But, what store owner’s must do is have a program in effect to periodically check for potentially dangerous conditions, block them off, warn about them and clean them as soon as possible.
The Florida Legislature enacted Florida Statute § 768.0755 along with other legislation shifted the evidentiary burden in slip and fall cases back to injury victims. Under Section 768.0755, slip and fall victims in cases involving transitory foreign substances must prove that the owner of the premises or party in possession had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard. Constructive knowledge by the business may be established by the duration of time the hazard was present or the frequency of the hazardous condition, which made if foreseeable. Trained lawyers who practice in the area of fall injuries know the right questions to ask to determine if this element is present.
Extensive discovery typically is necessary to demonstrate that the premises owner or business tenant had constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition. The evidence might be gathered by examining past accident reports at the location, video footage, employee testimony and other forms of evidence. While the discovery process provides an opportunity for each side to obtain information, testimony and documents from the other side to prove knowledge, an experienced slip and fall lawyer may be necessary to determine what evidence is sufficient to satisfy the constructive knowledge requirement. Often times, we find former employees who honestly relate whether there had been prior problems in the area that the store did not address.
The case of Publix Supermarkets v. Santos provides an example of the potential challenges in proving constructive knowledge. In Santos, the Third District Court of Appeals narrowly interpreted the scope of constructive knowledge by a business establishment. Santos’ lawsuit alleged that she fell on wet spinach or some other transitory substance on the floor of the Miami Publix. She claimed that the source of the foreign substance was a kiosk used for cooking demonstrations inside the grocery store. The injury victim requested information on all slip and fall accidents in the Miami Publix during the three years preceding her fall. When the plaintiff learned that no incidents had occurred during that period, Ms. Santos requested information regarding falls near similar kiosks in other Publix locations in Florida.
Publix was unsuccessful in seeking a protective order to relieve the company of the obligation to provide the information, so Publix appealed. The Third District Court of Appeal (which covers Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys) reversed the trial court reasoning that the requested information was irrelevant. The court ruled that the term “business establishment” under what the court called the plain meaning of the term referred to a single store location rather than multiple stores within the supermarket chain. The Santos case demonstrates the challenges in seeking evidence that will prove the constructive knowledge of an unsafe condition on the premises of a supermarket, grocery store or other business. At our firms, we have often visited a number of stores in the chain to see what different safety precautions were used.
IMPORTANT TIP: In each and every case our office handles we make it a practice to go over each and every complaint our client has from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. We do this because patients fail to tell their physician all of their complaints, thinking that what they are feeling is not related to the injuries received in their case. We are not doctors but we explain to the client to let the doctor know because he/she may feel that there is a relation. For example, a person complaining of lower back pain may not tell their doctor that they are having tingling or numbness in their leg. By telling the doctor this, they can examine the patient and determine the cause of the complaint.
If you are injured in Publix or another business, our experienced Miami slip and fall attorneys might be able to represent you in seeking compensation for your injuries. We have represented hundreds in slip and falls or trip and falls, and we have recovered tens of millions of dollars. Our commitment to client recovery has earned an “AV” rating from Martindale Hubbell, and it is why we have been asked to join Primerus, an international society of leading law firms. Moreover, the Miami Herald voted us as one of the top-rated South Florida law firm, and, we have earned the title of “Superlawyers,” designating us as being among the best lawyers in America. We want to put this dedication to work for you, so call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule an initial consultation.