Damages may include:
- Medical expenses (e.g. ambulance bills, hospital bills, doctors’ bills, etc.)
- Lost Wages
- Pain and Suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Slip and Falls at Florida Colleges and Universities
In the case of McCarthy v. Broward College, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2015, a lady sued Broward College and Sunshine Cleaning Systems for personal injury.
She slipped and fell on unidentified liquid in an elevator on the College’s Coconut Creek Campus on August 25, 2011. Broward College moved for summary judgment, arguing that injured lady could not prove actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition, as required by section 768.0755, Florida Statutes (2011).
The trial court granted the motion, finding that Broward College was a “business establishment” for the purposes of the statute. The court ruled that there was no genuine issue of fact to be resolved regarding Broward College’s lack of notice of the allegedly dangerous condition.
The injured victim appealed, arguing that Broward College violated its common law duty of care. The appeals court agreed with the trial court.
In Publix Supermarkets, Inc. v. Santos, 118 So. 3d 317 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013), the Third District define “business establishment” as “a location where business is conducted, goods are made or stored or processed or where services are rendered.” Learn about Publix accident claims in Florida.
The McCarthy appeals court agreed with the Third District’s definition of the term and hold that Broward College is a business establishment where “services are rendered” for a fee. Furthermore, while a college seems quite different than a grocery store or other retail outlet, this statute has been held to apply to other service-based, government-owned entities, such as Miami International Airport (Kenz v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 116 So. 3d 461 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013)) and a U.S. Postal Service facility (Kertz v. U.S., 2013 WL 1464180 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 10, 2013)).
The appeals court said that section 768.0755, Florida Statutes (2011), does apply to public institutions of higher learning, like Broward College. The court also said that there are times when it is proper to grant summary judgment for a defendant in a slip and fall lawsuit brought under section 768.0755, Florida Statutes (2011).
The appeals court said that Broward College is a business establishment where “services are rendered” for a fee.
The appeals court said that the facts of this case are similar to Walker v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 2014 WL 4086798, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1750 (Fla. 1st DCA Aug. 20, 2014), Delgado v. Laundromax, Inc., 65 So. 3d 1087 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), and Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Schmidt,509 So. 2d 977 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987).
In Walker, the First District affirmed a summary judgment on behalf of a Winn-Dixie grocery store, noting there was no evidence of how long the dangerous condition existed before the fall, no evidence that wet conditions occurred with regularity in the area where the plaintiff fell, nor any “evidence of active negligence by Winn-Dixie employees.” Walker, 39 Fla. L. Weekly at D1751.
The appeals court said that injured lady did not provide any facts indicating how Broward College was liable for her fall. She was unable to identify the liquid in the elevator, determine how long it had been there, or establish if anyone at Broward College had actual or constructive notice of its presence.
Moreover, no evidence was presented or argument made that “[t]he condition [(an allegedly wet elevator floor)] occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.” § 768.0755(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2011). In fact, given the limited evidence presented to the trial court, the injured woman’s theory of the case, that the liquid in the elevator was rainwater, would require the stacking of inferences and a disregard of Broward College’s testimony in order to find liability.
The accident victim introduced evidence that it rained in Pompano Beach, four miles away from Broward College, but no evidence that it rained at the Broward College campus. Moreover, she testified that it was not raining when she drove to work, when she arrived at the campus at approximately 9:30 a.m.
She said that it was not raining when she walked to the elevator at approximately 10:50 a.m. The only rain that morning of which she was aware was “much earlier in the morning.”
Therefore, a jury would have to infer (seemingly contrary to Appellant’s testimony) that this Pompano Beach rain shower also affected Broward College, which is not a foregone conclusion, as anyone familiar with our state’s summer storms is well aware.
The jury would also have to infer that this rainwater was somehow introduced to the elevator floor, despite the surrounding walkway being dry at the time of the incident.
In contrast to cases like Delgado, this court has a line of cases holding that “evidence that no inspection had been made during a particular period of time prior to an accident may warrant an inference that the dangerous condition existed long enough so that the exercise of reasonable care would have resulted in discovery.” Schmidt v. Bowl Am. Fla., Inc., 358 So. 2d 1385, 1387 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978).
For example, summary judgment in favor of a defendant was reversed because a plaintiff, in her affidavit, indicated that no worker or customer had “entered or exited the area where the fall occurred” in the fifteen minutes prior to the plaintiff falling on a creamy substance. Lynch v. Target Stores, Div. of Dayton Hudson Corp., 790 So. 2d 1193, 1194 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).
This fact supported “a reasonable inference that the foreign substance had been on the floor for a minimum of fifteen minutes,” and the determination as to whether fifteen minutes was “sufficient time in which [the defendant] should have become aware of this condition is for the jury”.
The “fifteen minutes” time period noted in Lynch v. Target Stores, Div. of Dayton Hudson Corp., 790 So. 2d 1193, 1194 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).should not be construed as creating a per se rule.
Instead, the time between inspections necessary to give rise to an inference that the dangerous condition existed sufficiently long enough that it would have been discovered in the exercise of reasonable care must be governed by a reasonableness standard, giving due consideration to the size, nature, and inherent risks of the area in question.
A fifteen minute period may be sufficient to presume negligence in a relatively small retail store filled with products that could easily fall, spill, or break and create a hazard.
However, when considering a large expanse, like a college campus or outdoor park, it is reasonable to allow greater intervals between inspections, particularly when the area is devoid of objects or conditions that are likely to cause substantial risks to persons therein.
In this case, the uncontroverted evidence established that the elevator had been cleaned approximately fifty minutes before the lady’s fall. There was no credible evidence that it had rained during this time period.
The injured lady said that the concrete floor surface immediately outside the cab of the elevator was “dry”.
Given the size of the campus, the lack of any evidence that it rained at Broward College during this fifty minute period, and the absence of any other particularized threat or active or regular negligence on the part of employees of the College, this time period does not warrant an inference of negligence.
The appeals court said that the trial court properly dismissed the case. The injured woman’s attorney was from Plantation, Florida.
The defense lawyer was from Miami, Florida. We actually settled a separate slip and fall case for $300,000 with the same defense law firm.
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