In the case of Gomez v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Case Number 4D18-178 (Fla. 4th DCA March 20, 2019), Florida’s Fourth DCA reversed a summary judgment in favor of Walmart on liability for a manhole cover that was protruding by more than 1/4 inch in Walmart’s parking lot.
Mr. Gomez tripped and fell on a manhole cover in a Walmart parking lot. He sustained a serious head trauma and eventually died. In the lawsuit, Walmart was granted a summary judgment regarding liability and the plaintiffs appealed.
Walmart argued the following:
- The manhole had been inspected and approved by various government entities
- There were no prior accidents involving the manhole
- The manhole was open and obvious
- The customer was responsible for his own fall
The plaintiff argued the following:
- The manhole was never determined to be safe even though it had been inspected by government entities
- “Safety checks” performed by employees had factual questions as to whether they were adequate or whether the employees were properly trained
- The manhole itself was a dangerous condition
- The manhole was not open and obvious
It is further important to note that Broward County Code allowed no more than a 1/4″ difference between the top edge of the manhole cover and the pavement. Evidence in the case suggested that the gap at some places was 10/32 of inch.
Where Things Went Wrong
Walmart’s lawyers should have known that getting a summary judgment on liability is a dangerous thing to do because there is often some degree of comparative fault in most cases. This means that there is a “material fact” in dispute and it is the role of the jury to decide such a disputed fact.
In this case, the plaintiff’s expert gave opinions that the manhole would not have been in compliance with local building codes, that the pavement was an “improperly maintained” surface, and that there was insufficient lighting that contributed to the plaintiff’s fall.
Likewise, the Fourth DCA said that “[t]he dangerousness of the the manhole remained an issue of fact that was not conclusively determined by the record at summary judgment.”
Get Help With Your Slip And Fall Case
Slip and fall cases in Florida almost always involve some degree of comparative fault. However, this does not mean that you do not have a valid case. To get an opinion on your Florida slip and fall case, schedule a free consultation with a Lakeland, FL slip and fall attorney today.