Although a property owner or occupier of the premises can be liable for a slip and fall or trip and fall accident, the process of pursuing a settlement or judgment can be challenging because of the fact-intensive nature of fall-related litigation. Successful resolution of a trip and fall claim requires careful investigation of the premises, circumstances, identity of owners and occupiers, and other legal and factual considerations. The complex inquiry required to prevail in a case involving a fall caused by unsafe premises of another makes it imperative that clients be represented by an experienced slip and fall lawyer.
A recent case involving a trip and fall accident in the parking lot of a Florida discount store provides a primer for our South Florida trip and fall lawyers to explain the complexities of cases involving falls on the premises of a business. Generally, property owners and occupiers of commercial property owe two duties to the public: (1) warn customers, suppliers, and others visiting for similar purposes of latent (non-obvious) hazardous conditions that are or should be known to the owner or occupier but not known or obvious to the invitee, and (2) keep the premises in reasonably safe condition. The property owner does not necessarily have a duty to warn invitees about obvious and open hazards. However, the obvious nature of the hazard does not relieve the owner or occupier of a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. To establish constructive notice of an owner or occupier of an unsafe condition, the court will consider factors like the duration of time the hazard has existed, as well as whether it occurred naturally or because of conduct by the property owner/occupier.
In Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Florida, Inc., the plaintiff parked in the parking lot of a mall with landscaped areas between the rows of spaces. The divider areas had trees that were secured to re-bar tie-downs. An independent maintenance company maintained the landscaping on behalf of the owner and lessee. The plaintiff attempted to use a well-traveled shortcut across the landscaped divider and tripped on a re-bar that was not secured to a tree. The plaintiff suffered a knee injury and filed suit against the property owner and lessee alleging failure to remedy a dangerous condition, failure to warn of the hazard, and failure to maintain the premises in a safe condition.
The trial judge granted summary judgment for the defendants based on the contention that the hazard posed by the dividers with re-bar were “open and obvious.” The trial court relied on a prior decision that reached a similar conclusion involving a plaintiff who tripped on a tree root while taking a shortcut through a landscaped area in a parking lot.
On appeal, the district court reversed the decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants because the court found the decision involving the tree root distinguishable. While the area with the tree root was not widely used for foot traffic, the area where the plaintiff was injured in Grimes appeared to be a heavily used shortcut. The grass in the area of the landscaped dividers had been completely trampled to the point only dirt remained. The placement of a trash bin in the area also suggested that the shortcut was knowingly used by enough people to warrant placement of a receptacle in the vicinity. Based on this evidence, the district court concluded the area had become a “well-trampled dirt path.” The court also reasoned that a jury could reasonably conclude that the property owner and lessee should have been on notice of the hazard so that a duty to remedy the hazard arose.
Although this ruling does not guarantee that the plaintiff will win the case, the analysis involved demonstrates the subtle factual distinctions that can determine the difference between a recovery and a defense verdict in a case involving a fall. Our South Florida trip and fall lawyers understand the importance of persuasive advocacy regarding these slight variations of the facts in these types premises liability cases.
If you have been injured in a trip and fall accident, the South Florida Slip and Fall Attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing commercial trucking accident victims across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our exceptional South Florida slip and fall injury lawyers to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.