Slip-and-fall accidents in Florida have gotten harder in recent years to pursue in civil court, after legislators heightened the proof standards five years ago.
As a general rule, property owners and businesses owe the utmost duty of care to provide a safe space to guests. This includes keeping the floors clear of debris and slippery substances that might pose a fall risk to patrons.
However, up until 2010, people who did suffer a slip-and-fall needed only to show an out-of-place (transitory) foreign substance caused the accident. But now, with amendments to F.S. 768.0755, the burden of proof is on the injured person to show the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard and failed to address it or warn of it.
Actual knowledge means a worker actually knew that particular substance was on the floor. Constructive knowledge, meanwhile, means the dangerous condition should have been known, given either the length of time it existed or the fact that it occurred with regularity and thus was foreseeable.
In the case of Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., the question before the Massachusetts Supreme Court was whether this “regular occurrence/foreseeability” standard was applicable in slip-and-fall cases the same as with other types of premises liability lawsuits (those brought against property owners/managers for unsafe conditions on site).
The court ruled it was indeed applicable. This has no direct bearing on Florida’s law, but it does highlight one of the key ways Florida slip-and-fall plaintiffs can prove their case.
According to court records, plaintiff slipped and fell and broke her leg while on a dance floor of a nightclub. She and friends had been dancing for hours prior, and had not noticed any slippery substances on the ground prior to the incident (meaning the danger wasn’t open and obvious to plaintiff, a key defense that is often employed). However, testimony and evidence revealed that throughout the night, patrons were allowed to carry their drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – onto the dance floor. Many testified seeing people dance with drink in hand.
This practice is inevitably at some point going to lead to a spill.
Defendant argued the case should not move forward because plaintiff hadn’t proved the club had actual or constructive knowledge of the spill that caused her to fall.
After much legal wrangling, the state supreme court found that while there may not have been proof the club employees had actual knowledge of this spill, the court did find evidence spills occurred with regularity and were thus a foreseeable hazard.
The court granted plaintiff the right to continue to take her case to trial (rather than be dismissed via summary judgment before reaching that phase).
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., June 23, 2015, Massachusetts Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Sanon v. City of Pella – Drowning Litigation May Proceed, July 1, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Premises Liability Lawyer Blog