Falls in grocery stores, restaurants, malls, and other types of businesses can have a devastating impact on victims. Customers shopping in a grocery store probably assume they will receive compensation if they fall and suffer injury. However, litigation of slip and fall accidents in Florida poses special challenges that make it important to seek legal representation from an experienced Miami personal injury lawyer. In this article, our attorneys review a recent case that demonstrates the special obstacles to proving liability in a Florida business.
The task of establishing the liability of a business for a fall involving a customer became more difficult because of changes in Florida law when F.S. 768.0755 was enacted. The law included the requirement that a plaintiff in a lawsuit involving a fall on a transitory foreign substance must prove the owner of the property/business had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition and that the owner/business failed to take adequate remedial action to protect the injury victim. Actual knowledge is self-explanatory, such as when the business/owner observes the hazard or receives a report from an employee. Constructive knowledge involves a more complicated factual analysis. The circumstances and facts must support a finding that the owner/business would have been aware of the hazard with the exercise of reasonable care. The most common way to prove constructive notice is to establish that the hazard has been present long enough that ordinary care should have led to its discovery or that the situation is so common the hazard was foreseeable.
In Bates-Bridgmon v. Heong’s Market, Inc., Rhode Island’s highest court upheld the jury verdict for the defendant in a case involving the fall of the plaintiff in a store. While this case was decided in another jurisdiction, the general principles are similar in both states in this context. Under the “mode of operation” principle in Florida, the owner of a grocery store or other business held open to the public fails to exercise reasonable care when the mode of operation of the business makes a hazardous condition reasonably foreseeable.
An example of this principle might apply to a fast food restaurant with a beverage bar. Customers will often spill beverages on the tile floor when filling their cup with soda. The business owner can be liable under the mode of operation rule for a broken bone, back injury, traumatic brain injury, or other debilitating injuries of a customer who slips on a soft drink spilled on the tile floor making it slick. A jury could certainly find that the nature of the business operation with the self-serve beverage bar made it foreseeable that a customer might slip and fall on a spilled drink. Because of the mode of operation, the store owner would have a duty to establish a schedule for inspecting the floor to prevent spilled beverages from causing slippery floors.
In Bates-Bridgmon, the parties agreed that the customer slipped on cucumber and oil that spilled from the salad bar inside the grocery store. While the plaintiff compared the hazard to a leaky drainpipe that repeatedly creates a wet, slippery floor, the manager of the store testified that he or she had never seen a spill from the salad bar before the incident and that there was not evidence of notice (actual or constructive) of the hazard. The plaintiff failed to request a jury instruction about the mode of operation principle nor did the judge provide one. In the absence of this principle being outlined, the jury returned a defense verdict. The verdict was upheld on appealed because the jury did not receive an instruction regarding the owner’s duty based on the mode of operation, but the court held the plaintiff could not raise the issue on appeal because no request was made in the trial court.
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The key to take away from this case is that slip and fall cases require a skilled and experienced attorney who understands the strict legal requirements for prevailing in this type of case and the facts that must be gathered and presented effectively. Florida law is complex and not particularly favorable to shoppers who slip on a wet floor, so retaining a knowledgeable and seasoned Miami personal injury attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your lawsuit. Our Miami homeowners insurance claims attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano tenaciously pursue the fullest compensation for our clients. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted personal injury victims and their families in pursuing the fullest compensation. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.