1. Actual Knowledge of the Box or Container on the Floor or in an aisle.
In Florida, the store must use reasonable care to protect shoppers from a dangerous condition if the store has actual knowledge of the condition.
The store may have an obligation to block off the area and warn shoppers of the area.
If an employee of the store has actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, then you have to look at your comparative fault and your injuries in order to know if you have a case. If the store has actual knowledge of the box or container, you can skip to #3 below.
You are shopping in Walgreens in Kendall or any city in Florida. You are walking in an aisle and you are looking at the products and coupons on the shelves. You trip over a container that was being used to collect water that was dripping from the ceiling. In this case, Walgreens should have used reasonable care to protect you – as a shopper – from the container in the middle of the aisle.
A container in the middle of an aisle is a dangerous condition. Walgreens could have blocked of the area and/or warned shoppers of the container.
In this case, there was dirty water in the container; therefore you can assume that the container had been there for significant amount of time before my client’s fall. You can assume that Walgreens placed the container there which puts them on actual notice that the container was there.
You are shopping at Publix Supermarkets in Coral Gables or any city in Florida. You see a box or container on the floor and you notice a store employee look at the box and make a facial expression indicating that he or she could see the box or container.
The store employee walks right past the box or container but does not move it to an area where someone will not trip on it.
The employee does not stop and wait for another employee to come so that there is always an employee present once the store is on notice that the box or container is on the floor. A shopper trips on the box or container and fractures his or her knee.
Here, the store had actual knowledge that the box or container was on the floor. This is because the employee saw the box or container on the floor prior to the customer’s fall.
2. Constructive Notice.
You can still have a case even if a store employee did not place the box on container on the floor or see it before your trip and fall. If the store does not have actual knowledge, you have to prove that the store should had constructive knowledge.
3. Could you see the box or container before you fell?
The best case for you is if you could not see the box or container before you fall because:
– It was the same color as the floor and you were busy staring at coupons on the shelves or in an other area the store; and/or
– You were turning a corner and walking into – or exiting – an aisle and you did not see the box or container and you tripped over it.
In Example #1 above, the case is more difficult because the store could argue that you should have seen the container from far away and therefore she had comparative fault. Your personal injury case is weaker – worth less – if you had a chance to see the box or container before you tripped over it.
4. Were there witnesses to the fall (or immediately thereafter)?
Although not a requirement to have a good case against the store, it is always good if you have a witness that saw you fall. If you do have a witness that saw you fall, ask them to complete a witness statement or affidavit that talks about the cause of your fall. An affidavit is basically very similar to a witness statement except that a notary witnesses it.
If the witness did not see you fall, but saw you on the ground after your fall, ask him or her to complete a witness affidavit or statement saying that he or she saw you on the floor and that you were next to a container or box (if this is the case).
In the Walgreens case that I mentioned in Example #1 above, there could be a witness who heard you scream after her fall. Assume the witness did not see the fall but she saw you on the floor after the fall.
You could speak with the witness on the phone and then typed up an affidavit for her to sign. She could tell you some of the following things, if truthful, which you could add to the affidavit:
– I saw Client lying flat on her stomach, with her arms and her legs sprawled out.
– I heard a noise that sounded like someone fell. I looked back and saw Client on the floor. There was a rectangular bucket on the floor. I believe that the bucket caused her to fall because there were no warning signs around it. An ice wrap was put on her ankle by a female employee.
– Client kept saying “My ankle, my ankle.”
– An ambulance was called but later called off.
The witness could also say – if true – that he or she was in the area for a significant period of time before you fell and he or she did not see any employee of the store in the area. The witness could also state, if true, that he or she:
a. Saw a store employee walk by and see the box or container before the fall; and
b. Not warn customers of the box or container.
In a case similar to the Walgreens case (described above), it would be great to have the witness state, if true, that the water inside the container was dirty. This would show that the container was there for a long period of time before the fall. This would fight of an argument by the store that a customer possibly moved the box or container and placed it in the aisle.
If you were in pain, the witness statement or affidavit should say describe your pain (e.g. whether you were screaming, crying). It should also state any statements that you may have said that help you show that you were in pain.
This can weaken the store’s argument that your injuries were unrelated to this accident because you were not in pain at the accident scene. Get as many witness statements as you can get.
If you called fire rescue (paramedics/ambulance), they can be witnesses as well. This is true even if he or she did not see the fall. I had a case where my client fell from a booth at a Denny’s restaurant.
I spoke with a paramedic. She remembered that she saw a loose booth when she arrived at the accident scene. I requested the records from the ambulance company and the records helped the paramedic remember that the booth was loose.
From my experience, an employee of a private ambulance company (such as AMR or Medics) who arrives at the accident scene is more likely to complete a witness statement or affidavit than a fire rescue employee (County or city employee).
For example, I have tried speaking with some Miami-Dade county fire rescue employees following a fall and they are hesitant to sign an affidavit. The good news is that he or she is required to give you his or her testimony if you file a lawsuit.
6. Whether you had walked in that area before.
The more that you had walked in the area – where the container or box was on the floor – before you fell, the worse it is for your case. This is because the store will argue that you knew or should have known about that box or container on the floor before you fell.
You are walking in an aisle in a Walgreens in Coconut Grove or any city in Florida and you walk past a box or container. You walk past the same box or container more than once. Your case is more difficult because Walgreens will argue that you are comparatively negligent because you saw the box or container several times and you should not have tripped on it.
Even if you saw that the box or container before you fell, you may still have a good case for your personal injuries. This is especially true if you are in a supermarket or store where there are many coupons (or “sale” signs) in the aisles or throughout the store.
7. Were you badly injured from your trip and fall on the box or container?
As you can imagine, the seriousness of your injuries has an important impact on the value of your case. If you have large medical bills or lost wages and have been through a lot of pain and suffering, you may have a very strong case. If you have minor injuries, such as minor bruising or pain that goes away, it is possible that you have a difficult case.
8. Is there insurance available?
If you are injured in a big box store (Walmart, Target, Costco, etc.), they most likely have a self-retention in their liability insurance policy and have enough money to pay for your damages (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.). If you were injured in a “smaller” (e.g. mom and pop store), you would make a claim against their liability coverage – assuming they have insurance – under their policy.
The good news is that most stores, supermarkets or restaurants have business liability insurance. Most liability policies are in the amount of at least 1 million dollars.
You can find out whether store has liability insurance by sending a letter to the store requesting their insurance information. In Florida, the insurance company for the store is required to respond to your written request for insurance information. (See Florida Statute 627.4137)
Keep in mind that you still have to prove that the store was at fault for not warning you – or blocking of the area surrounding area – after a box or container had been on the floor for a long period of time. You have to prove that you injuries are a result of tripping on the box or container.
9. Deadline for your case.
If you tripped and fell in a store, you must file your lawsuit within a certain amount of time. Most cases settle before a lawsuit is filed. However, you want to give yourself plenty of time in case your claim cannot be settled before a lawsuit is filed.
The time deadline to file a lawsuit depends on who maintained the store when you tripped and fell.
In Florida, there is a different time limit to sue a private business than there is to sue the government. Deadlines against the government entities in Florida are:
– If the property owner or maintenance company is Federal government: 2 years – but you must give them notice, in a very specific manner in writing, before filing a lawsuit. An example of a case against the U.S. is if you tripped and fell in a U.S. post office or in a federal building.
– If the office is run by the City or State government: 4 years, but you must give them notice within 3 years after the date of your trip and fall. To comply with this notice requirement, you must give the county, city or State certain pieces of information in writing.
You then have to wait 6 months, unless they deny your claim, before you can file a lawsuit. So if you tripped and fell in a local government office or building anywhere in Florida, you have 4 years to sue the county, city or municipality.
This is true regardless of whether you fell in town hall in the City of Coral Gables, the office of a park such as Tropical Park, or the police station in the City of Coconut Grove.
10. Don’t pay too much attention to what the insurance company says.
If the insurance company for the store tells you that they are not liable for your injuries, you may still have a good case. Often times, the insurance company denies someone’s claim – for injuries – in the hopes that the injured person will give up.
Insurance companies save Billions of dollars doing this every year! I have settled cases for good money after the store denies liability (offered nothing) or offers a small amount of money. I have done this by filing a lawsuit against the store, supermarket or restaurant.
As you can see, there are many factors when deciding whether you have a personal injury case if you trip and fall in a container or box in a store in Florida.
Check out these articles:
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against a Florida Publix
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against a Florida Winn Dixie store
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against a Florida supermarket
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against a Florida Target store
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against a Florida CVS store
- Slip, trip and fall injury claims against Florida Home Depot stores
Did a store’s carelessness cause your injury in Florida? Were you hurt somewhere else and/or in another type of accident in Florida?
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