In my many years of representing those injured through the actions or omissions of others, I have represented thousands of Clients injured as the result of what is commonly called a ‘Slip & Fall’. Among lawyers, Judges and Juries, these types of incidents fall under the general category of Premises Liability. The question to be investigated and litigated is what duty an owner of a commercial or residential establishment owes to its customer, visitor or invitee who comes on the premises. Many think that if they fall in a commercial location or a friend’s home, they are automatically entitled to damages. This is simply not true. The property owner must have some legal responsibility or culpability. This determination is a fact intensive issue meaning there must be facts established to show fault, recovery is far from automatic.
The body of case law which has developed over many years and thousands of cases and appeals is often times complex and somewhat challenging but in the final analysis, it is like any other negligence case. In order to have a good result in a settlement negotiation or in front of a jury in a Florida courtroom your lawyer should have significant experience in negotiating and trying these Slip & Fall cases. There is no substitute or shortcut, experience and skill prevails.
Negligence consists of four primary elements; Duty, Breach of duty, Causation; and Damages. Let’s take a moment and apply a slip and fall incident to this legal structure. An owner of property owes those who enter upon the premises a duty to use due care and vigilance to make sure that the floors and parking lots are free from defects and are otherwise free from foreign objects and obstacles which may foreseeably lead to injury. Florida law requires an owner to take reasonable steps to prevent injury from perils which the owner knew or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the danger. These include liquids, food, oil or grease and potholes (parking lot). Assume for a moment that you are in a supermarket and a moment before you wheel your carriage into the produce section a shopper drops a few grapes on the floor and a moment later you slip and fall on them and suffer a substantial injury. The question for the jury is not as simple as you were injured, you receive a recovery. The question is did the owner exercise due care. The questions include how long the grapes had been on the floor and should the owner have found them before you were unfortunate enough to slip on them. As a general rule, the longer the danger exists, the more likely the jury will find a breach of the duty to monitor or police the floor for spilled produce or any other dangerous condition.
Experienced lawyers know that in a situation like this, since grapes are refrigerated, if the grapes were warm when you slipped on them, they were on the floor for some period of time and the jury can comfortably find that the owner should have taken corrective measures before you fell. If the grapes were cold when you fell, they probably just fell and the owner may not have had sufficient time or sufficient notice to have found them and cleaned them up. These questions are for the jury to decide.
The third element is causation. If the grapes fell but you have a bad knee and fall occasionally, or you were wearing high heels and there may not be causation, i.e., a direct connection between the breach of the owner’s duty (to keep the floors free of defects and dangers) and that the injury because your fall and subsequent injury was the result of your chronic knee condition or poor footwear. Finally you must suffer damages which necessarily flow from the owner’s negligence.
Slip and fall cases are difficult to prove because you will always face the ‘klutz defense’. Defense counsel will inquire as to what type of shoes you were wearing, were you paying attention, have you fallen before, and the list goes on and on. They will typically try to paint a picture that you tripped over your own feet and that it was somehow your fault.
Having an experienced lawyer and law firm who have handled these cases for decades will not only increase your chances of making a recovery but will certainly result in a more significant settlement or recovery in this very difficult area of the law.