Shirley Williams fell and suffered personal injuries after driving her car to a Sears garage, in which Jiffy Lube shared space and operated a quick oil change business.
(She also sued Jiffy Lube. That case is still pending before the trial court.)
She claimed that Sears was negligent:
(1) for failing to keep its floor clean and free of debris and
(2) by creating a negligent condition by allowing a Jiffy Lube employee to improperly invite her into the repair shop to assist him in the service of her automobile.
Don’t have to know with specificity the substance that caused fall
The court said that it is not necessary for Williams to identify with any specificity the nature of the substance that caused her to fall.
Case Goes to Trial Unless It’s Conclusively Proven No Substance on the Floor
Even though Williams could not say whether it was oil or grease or some other foreign substance on the ground that she slipped on, her case should not be dismissed unless it is conclusively proven that there was no substance on the floor that was the proximate cause of her injuries.
Tip: If your case can survive dismissal, Sears will likely offer money to settle. The amount that they may offer will depend on the facts of the case.
She Can’t Claim that Something ‘Must’ Have Been on Floor
Williams can’t avoid having her case dismissed motion just by claiming that because she slipped, it must be assumed or presumed that there had to be something of a foreign nature on the floor that caused her fall.
She sued and Sears’ attorney took her statement (deposition) under oath. Williams said that she wasn’t aware of any substance on the floor.
She didn’t know what caused her fall
She said that she didn’t know if she slipped on oil, on dirt, on water, on anything.
It is not enough for Williams to suggest that because she slipped on Sears’s floor, her fall was not due to her own unsteadiness but because of Sears’s negligence in maintaining the premises.
Tip: If you slip and fall at Sears, Jiffy Lube or somewhere else, they may try to blame your fall on your balance issues.
Before a lawsuit, they will look at any medical records that your provide them with. These medical records may talk about your prior or current balance issues, if you have any.
If you had issues with unsteadiness before the fall, Sears’ claims adjuster may offer you less money to settle.
Sears Employee Saw Nothing on the Floor
An inspection was made by Sears’s Safety Coordinator, who examined the area for the presence of any transitory foreign substance or debris both on the floor and on William’s clothing. The Sears employee saw nothing.
Williams never saw anything on the floor either before her fall or on her clothing after the fall. Nor was there any evidence of any other person, employee, or customer who made such an observation.
Burden is on Sears to Get Case Dismissed
While the burden on Sears seeking dismissal is a heavy one, it is not impossible. Sears’s initial burden is to show enough evidence to support its claim that there is no genuine material factual issue.
Only then does the burden shift to Williams to establish the existence of an issue of material fact.
Sears Met Its Burden to Get Case Dismissed
Sears met its burden to get the case dismissed because:
1. Williams’ own testimony establishing a complete lack of knowledge as to whether anything may have caused her fall; and
2. An immediate examination of the premises and Williams’ clothing revealed nothing on the floor.
The court said that her case is based on no more than a guess or speculation. Her case is not founded on observable facts or reasonable inferences drawn.
Williams didn’t have an affidavit (written statement under oath) or testimony to raise the existence of any material fact. Therefore, the court said that dismissal of the case was proper.
This case is Williams v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 866 So.2d 122 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004). The 4th District Court of Appeals hears cases from Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties.
This case is still good law. It was cited in cases where courts dismissed:
- a guest’s lawsuit against Target for her slip and fall in the bakery section of the store.
- a customer’s slip and fall case against a laundromat in Florida.
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