Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall personal injury cases are based on an individual claim that a property owner failed to exercise reasonable care and was negligent in tolerating or permitting an unsafe condition to exist on his or her property that results in an injury to another person. Slip and fall claims are one of the most frequently filed personal injury claims in the country and can occur in a variety of places and a variety of ways. Slip and fall accidents can take place in commercial retail establishments such as malls, grocery stores, or department stores, entertainment venues such as amusement parks, movie theaters, resorts, or hotels, or residential areas such apartment and condominium buildings. Slip and fall accidents can also take place in outdoor common spaces such as parking lots and sidewalks.
The Labor Statistics Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorize slip and fall accidents into two categories: same-level falls and elevated falls. Sixty-five percent of injuries that are fall-related are from same-level surfaces. However, falls that are elevated can cause more severe injuries, even if they are less common. Additionally, between twenty to thirty percent of individuals who suffer a slip and fall will have moderate to serious injuries such as hip fractures, bruises, or head injuries. In fact, slip and fall events are the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and constitute forty-six percent of fatal falls experienced by Americans.
The Florida Department of Health collected data and issued statistics showing that falls are a leading cause of non-fatal injury-related hospital admissions in Florida. Hospitals admitted over 62,500 residents because of non-fatal falls in 2012, and hospitals in the state reported nearly 2,500 fatalities caused by falls in the same period. The National Floor Safety Institute provided data indicating that slip and fall accidents constituted over a million emergency room visits in the country and represented the leading cause of days absent from work, occupational injuries to individuals aged fifty-five years and older, and workers’ compensation claims. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reported that slip and falls cause nearly twenty percent of all occupational injuries and result in an average of eleven days of absence from work. In fact, one in six of all work injuries resulting in lost time are caused by slip and falls.
Most plaintiffs in slip and fall civil actions try to hold the property owners liable for their injuries. The legal theory behind this is that property owners have a duty of care to make sure that their properties are free from unsafe conditions that may cause those who enter injuries. Nevertheless, there may be several other parties whose conduct contributed to a slip and fall accident. Plaintiffs must identify all the responsible parties and name them in a civil suit to maximize chances of obtaining compensation for injuries.
Common Causes of Slip and Fall Incidents
There is a variety of possible causes for slip and fall accidents in Florida. Depending on the particular causation, plaintiffs must take appropriate steps to establish their right to compensation for their injuries. The following cases illustrate the most common culprits for slip and fall injuries in Florida:
- Slippery or wet floors caused by water or other liquids;
In Dominguez v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 371 So. 2d 212 (Fla. 3d DCA 1979), a plaintiff sued a supermarket for suffering a slip and fall accident in one of its aisles. During the trial, store surveillance videos revealed that a bottle of detergent fell on the aisle, and thirteen seconds later, the plaintiff rounded the corner into the aisle and fell because of the spilled detergent. The Third District Court of Appeals of Florida first discussed that a property owner has a duty to warn customers that it invites into the business of hidden dangers that the owners know of or should have known of, but that the customer is not aware of and is unable to discover just by using ordinary care. Additionally, the Court discussed that a property owner has the duty to use ordinary care to maintain the premises he or she owns in a reasonably safe condition for customers. In this case, the Court found that thirteen seconds was not enough time for the store to have enough opportunity to fix the unsafe condition by applying its safety policies.
- Walkways or stairways that have poor lighting;
In Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 908 So. 2d 574 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005), a plaintiff sued Palatka Mall for injuries she sustained when she tripped and fell on a parking bumper in a mall parking lot. One of the plaintiff’s allegations is that she tripped over the bumper late at night and that there was poor lighting in the lot causing her not to be able to see where she was going. The Fifth District Court of Appeals of Florida discussed that property owners would not be liable for injuries to customers caused by harmful conditions on their property when the dangerous condition is apparent or known to the plaintiff. In this case, the court indicated that inadequate lighting in the parking lot may have prevented the plaintiff from seeing the parking bumper and that therefore it may not have been an obvious or open danger.
The Most Common Injuries Caused By Slip and Falls
The seriousness of a person’s injuries from a slip and fall accident will depend on several factors. The types of injuries involved may be the result of the general health and age of the victim, the kind of surface that the victim fell onto, whether the fall was from a high elevation, and whether any objects struck by the victim during the fall. These factors can all impact the nature and severity of injuries sustained by the victim. Common injuries claimed in slip and fall incidents in Florida include:
- Sprains and fractures or broken bones. The sudden movement involved in a slip and fall accident may cause a victim to twist an ankle or a knee, and a hard landing during a fall may cause enough impact as to break bones. Fractures in slip and fall accidents are common in legs, wrists, hands, forearms, upper arms, and ankles. Additionally, for older adults, hip fractures are also a common result of falls, which requires hospitalization, surgery, and extended rehabilitation.
- Injuries to the shoulder. The impact to one’s shoulder from a slip and fall accident may cause a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is a complex system of nerves that connects the spinal cord to the arm, hand, and shoulder. A violent blow from a fall may stretch or tear the brachial plexus.
- Neck, back, and spinal cord injuries. Slip and falls can cause severe damage to the vertebrae in the back or result in herniated or slipped discs, causing a significant amount of pain and reduction in mobility. Spinal cord injuries may also lead to different degrees of paralysis and loss of function or sensation in various parts of the body.
- Brain and head injuries. A slip and fall accident, particularly from a high elevation, may result in a severe blow to the head, which can damage the brain cells in the area directly on the impact point in the skull or jolt the brain back and forth causing multiple damage points. These traumatic brain injuries or TBI can cause both serious short-term and long-term cognitive symptoms.
Florida’s Slip and Fall or Transitory Foreign Substances Statute
The Florida legislature has enacted a “transitory foreign substances” statute, which outlines how commercial property owners may be liable for injuries arising from dangerous conditions that exist on their properties. The transitory foreign substances statute creates an elaborate legal scheme for premises liability. Individuals who seek to obtain compensation under the statute should obtain the help of Englander Peebles, an experienced Florida personal injury law firm. Under the statute, the definition of a transitory foreign substance includes any solid or liquid object, item, or substance that is located in a place where it does not belong.
Under the general theory of premises liability, property owners owe certain duties towards those who they invite to enter into their properties either for their benefit or the benefit of the invitee. First, property owners have an obligation to exercise reasonable care and maintain the property that they own in a safe condition and reasonably free from transitory foreign substances that create dangerous conditions on their property. Second, property owners also have a duty to warn invitees of dangerous conditions that are latent or not apparent which the owner knows or should know of, and which invitees cannot discover for themselves by exercising reasonable care.
Under Florida’s transitory foreign substances statute, plaintiffs in premises liability cases have the burden of proving several things to prevail in a suit to obtain compensation.
· The plaintiff must prove that the entity or individual that possessed or controlled the premises owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
· The plaintiff must demonstrate that the entity or person failed to exercise due care in maintaining, inspecting, repairing, operating, or providing an adequate warning on the property in question.
· The plaintiff must prove that the failure above legally caused the injury, damage or loss.
· The plaintiff must prove that the defendant property owner possessed either actual or constructive knowledge that a potentially dangerous or harmful condition existed on the property and should have taken reasonable action to remedy such dangerous condition.
The transitory foreign substances statute also provides that plaintiffs may rely on different kinds of evidence to prove that the property owner had knowledge, either actual or constructive, that a dangerous condition existed. Acceptable evidence may include the following:
- The dangerous condition caused by a transitory foreign substance in the property was present for a sufficiently extended period that the property owner should have been aware it existed if he or she exercised reasonable care.
- The dangerous condition caused by a transitory foreign substance in the property regularly occurred on the premises and should have been foreseeable to the property owner.
Defenses to Liability
The duty of property owners isn’t without limitations. Under Florida state law, if the property owner takes certain steps to protect its invitees or customers from suffering injuries due to the dangerous conditions existing on the premises, then such owner may not be held liable by a court for a slip and fall accident.
· Sufficient warning
In Indian River Foods Inc. v. Braswell, 660 So. 2d 1093 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995), an independent contractor at a citrus industrial processing plant died when he accidentally cut into a liquid tank filled with highly volatile and explosive chemicals. That employee’s estate filed suit against the owner of the plant, claiming that the owner had a duty to warn employees of, or use reasonable care to provide protection against, dangerous conditions that the property owner possessed actual or constructive knowledge of. In this case, the owners of the property had notified all of the supervisors in the plant regarding the dangerous condition that caused the accident. The Florida court held that such warning was adequate for the owner to satisfy the duty to warn and therefore the owner was not liable.
· Visible or open dangerous conditions
In Poleyeff v. Seville Beach Hotel Corp., 782 So. 2d 422 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2001), a guest of a beachfront hotel was swimming on the beach right in front of the hotel when she was caught in a rip current and drowned. The guest’s estate filed suit against the hotel, claiming that the hotel was negligent because it failed to warn them adequately about dangerous conditions in the ocean, such as rip currents, or provide adequate protections against such hazards. The court, in this case, decided that the hotel did not have a duty to warn guests of the naturally occurring dangerous conditions that exist in the Atlantic Ocean, just as in any other ocean or beach in the world, even if hidden.
· No duty to warn trespassers
Florida law provides people who fall under the category of public or business invitees with the highest level of protection from dangerous conditions that exist on properties. Public invitees are people whom the owner has invited to enter his or her property as a member of the public for a particular purpose for which the land is generally opened to the public. Business invitees are typically customers who are invited to do business with the property owner. However, if a person enters a property without invitation as a trespasser has limited protection under Florida law.
For example, in Denniser v. Columbia Hospital Corporation of South Broward, a person was visiting family in a hospital when she went into a staff kitchen to get a drink. The door of the kitchen was closed, and a sign on the wall outside the kitchen indicated that the place was for staff only. The person suffered a slip and fall accident because of a wet floor in the kitchen and sued the hospital for her injuries. The court, in this case, stated that the plaintiff was no longer an invitee but had become a trespasser when she went into an area that was clearly marked for staff only. However, the court also noted that it is a critical consideration for such cases whether property owners have become aware of the presence of a trespasser in the premises, because if so, they may have a duty to warn such trespassers once they become mindful of the fact that they are present.
This case illustrates the principle that somebody’s status may change from invitee to trespasser by going to a portion of the property that lies beyond the scope of the initial invitation by the property owner. A change in status from an invitee to trespasser may happen if the invitee goes to a part of the property that is clearly marked as off-limits, or if the invitee remains on the property in question for a longer period than is reasonable to accomplish the purpose for which the property owner invited him or her for. Additionally, Florida courts have also acknowledged that an invitee may commit certain acts, such as acts of violence, that might cause him or her to lose the status of an invitee and become a trespasser.
If you have been involved in a slip and fall accident in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, or Broward County, contact Englander Peebles based in Fort Lauderdale today by calling (954) 500-4878. Englander Peebles has the years of experience and is ready to assist you in obtaining compensation for your injuries in slip and fall accidents in the South Florida area. Slip and fall cases present complex legal issues, procedures, and requirements, and Englander Peebles can help you navigate the process and implement an aggressive strategy to recover compensation for your injuries. You must not hesitate to contact us now for a free initial consultation as there are strict timeframes for filing a claim in Florida courts.