On April 30, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s ruling regarding the application of Florida Statute § 768.0755. This recently enacted statute essentially codifies Florida common law and requires that, in order to prevail on a personal injury slip and fall claim resulting from a “transitory substance” on the ground, the injured person must prove the defendant knew or should have known the substance was on the floor and should have cleaned it up before the fall occurred.
In almost all slip and fall injury cases that involve a slippery substance on the floor, there is no proof that the defendant was actually aware of the presence of the substance. This leaves the claimant with having to prove the defendant had “constructive notice,” meaning the substance was present on the floor for a sufficient length of time that, had the defendant been properly inspecting the floors, it would have noticed it.
Typically, the “defendant” in a case like this is the owner or operator of a business open to the public. Supermarkets, restaurants, shopping malls, common areas of apartment complexes and retail stores are common locations where such falls occur.
In the case ruled upon by the First District Court of Appeal, the injured person fell on a drink that was spilled on the dance floor at a country club. As the injured person did not have a drink, the inference is that another patron spilled the drink on the dance floor. However, the claimant had no way to know or prove the length of time that the drink remained on the floor.
The trial court granted summary judgment in the country club’s favor, ending the plaintiff’s effort to seek compensation.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the club had knowledge of the dangerous condition long before the fall because the country club allowed people to carry drinks on to the dance floor, which would inevitably lead to spills. The plaintiff argued, that, although this particular spilled drink may have only been on the floor seconds before the fall, the country club could have prevented the fall by simply not allowing people to carry drinks onto the dance floor.
The appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court’s ruling, which will allow the plaintiff to proceed with having a jury decide if the country club’s practice of allowing drinks on the dance floor amounts to “negligence.”
The “mode of operation” theory provides someone injured in a slip and fall the ability to bring a case in a situation where there is no evidence of how long a substance was on a floor prior to the fall, provided the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s method of operation is going to result in a slippery substance being on the floor.
For example, if a supermarket sells bagged ice, is should keep a mat in front of the ice cooler, because small pieces of ice often fall from ice bags when they are being removed from the cooler. If the ice lands on the supermarket floor, it will quickly melt causing anyone walking through the area to be exposed to a slip hazard. However, an unfortunate person injured in such a fall has no way to prove how long the ice or water was on the floor. Instead, that person can prove that the defendant was negligent in failing to place mats in front of ice coolers to catch any ice that falls from the bags and absorb the water when the ice melts.
The First District Court of Appeal handles the appeals from the circuit courts in north Florida from Jacksonville out through the panhandle including our area counties of Duval, Clay, Nassau, Union, Bradford and Baker.