Dangerous Conditions Cause Slip and Fall Injuries
In Florida, a premises liability case is the result of either a dangerous condition on the property or a dangerous activity that occurs on the property that is within the control of the landowner. Many of these cases are slip and fall or trip and fall cases resulting in broken wrists, arms, knees, hips, and tailbones. In those cases, there is an unreasonably dangerous condition on the property of the landowner that the owner either knows or should have known about. If you were injured in this manner, you should contact a Lakeland slip and fall attorney for a free consultation to discuss the merits of your case.
Should I Hire A Slip and Fall Attorney?
If you have slipped and fallen at a business (including a grocery store or big box store), you should do the following:
- Take pictures of the floor in the area of where you fell (make sure to include the substance that caused you to slip) because once you leave, the area will be cleaned up
- Take pictures of your shoes and clothes, including soaks and stains, with the substance that caused you to slip
- Keep or take pictures of your receipt to prove that you were at the business
- Don’t give or write a statement unless the business is willing to give you a copy of your statement
- Keep all photographs, written statements, shoes, and clothing to avoid any arguments about a spoliation of evidence
- Go to an Emergency Room or urgent care clinic for medical assistance
- Finally, call an attorney for help with your case
Water on the Floor or a “Transitory Foreign Substance”
Perhaps the most common type of premises liability case is one for water on the floor. This is the most common claim against retailers such as Wal-Mart, Publix, and Winn-Dixie. These business have protocols and procedures for an employee to walk the store every 20-30 minutes, however, the employees frequently disregard that policy. You can frequently prove with surveillance video evidence that the retailer was not enforcing procedures for an employee to do a regular sweep of the entire store. When one of these stores refuses to produce the surveillance video, it is often because the video goes hours without an employee following the procedure.
Florida has codified its law on this subject in section 768.0755, Florida Statutes. That statute requires a person who slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment to prove that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it.
Knew or Should Have Known of Dangerous Condition
Actual knowledge of a dangerous condition is rare as most owners would likely remedy a known dangerous situation. On the other hand, constructive knowledge has gotten harder to prove under the statute as the plaintiff must show with circumstantial evidence that the dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that the business should have known about in the exercise of ordinary care or that the dangerous condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.
This means that if a customer in a grocery store drops something on the floor, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the item dropped on the floor was there for long enough that the business owner should have known about it and should have done something about it. It also means that a roof that leaks every time it rains occurs with such regularity that the business owner should foresee that a danger is created every time it rains and should have the leaky roof repaired. Those are just mere examples of how this law works.
These principles of liability apply to all businesses and not just grocery stores. Every business establishment has a common law duty to ensure the safety of its property for business (within reason).
Trip Hazards From Floor Mats And Runners
Floor mats and runners are part of a standard approach to minimizing slips and falls, particularly due to water. On wet days, a business should use a floor mat or runner where appropriate near the entrance to prevent water from being tracked in by customers. However, the floor mat itself can become a trip hazard if it is aged, word, curled up, or uneven.
The National Safety Council has released a report outlining the proper use of floor mats to prevent trip and falls. In particular, with regard to commercial businesses, the rubber entry mat should:
- wide enough to cover the entire doorway and long enough to absorb water or dirt from shoes
- should go up to or abut the doorway
- be a contrasting color (dark mat on light colored floors)
- be in good condition with the edges flush with the floor and no curled up sides
Remember the purpose of a floor mat is to reduce (not completely eliminate) a slippery condition on the floor. This is also why a wet floor sign should be used in combination with a floor mat for a commercial establishment.
Sidewalks, Curb Ramps, and Detectable Warnings
The United States Access Board has released guidelines on how to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards.
One of the most common places where trip and falls occur is on what is called a “curb ramp.” As shown in the picture, a curb ramp allows someone in a wheelchair to travel from a roadway onto the sidewalk. The sides should be “flared” appropriately according to ADA and building code requirements.
Upon inspection after a trip and fall incident, it is common to find that the flared sides of a curb ramp are out of compliance and improperly sloped. Another common problem with the flared sides occurs when the business owner has painted the sides with regular paint as opposed to slip resistant paint. In wet conditions, this makes stepping up on the curb or the angled edges slippery and dangerous.
The ADA standards also require a “detectable warning” at the bottom of a curb ramp to provide a tactile warning before entering the roadway. This feature not only helps a blind person sense the edge of the roadway, it also helps everyone become more aware of their surroundings. While these detectable warning features are intended for that purpose, they must also be maintained in a reasonably safe condition. Shattered or broken edges of a detectable warning mat may cause a person to trip and fall or may have exposed bolts.
An ADA violation may be used as evidence of negligence and may be a solid basis for a personal injury lawsuit. The entire ADA standards for accessible design are published here.
Broken and uneven sidewalks are another trip and fall hazard due to settling of the ground or tree roots growing underneath the sidewalk. A business, government entity, HOA, or homeowner can be sued for a broken or uneven sidewalk.
ADA accessibility standards require that a sidewalk with a change in level can be up to 1/4″ on any accessible route for ingress or egress. Anything greater than 1/4″ up to 1/2″ must be ground down with a 1:2 slope. Any change in level greater than 1/2″ may require removal and replacement with a ramp or a new section of sidewalk.
Open And Obvious Defense
Almost all slip and fall or trip and fall cases will be defended by the property owner by claiming that the injured person was negligent, causing their own fall, and that any defect in the property was open and obvious. “Open and obvious” means that it is a condition that should be easily detectable with the use of ordinary care.
A number of cases have addressed what is open and obvious under the circumstances, however, most cases are factually unique. This is why you should have professional legal counsel to help determine whether you have a case. The condition upon which you fell may be an ADA or building code violation, despite being open and obvious, and may defeat the defense because ADA standards and building codes are meant to protect the public from harm (protected class).
“The Contractor Did It” Is Not A Defense For The Owner
Many business owners think that they are off the hook for dangerous conditions on their property simply because they hired a contractor to do the work and because the city or county permitted or approved the work.
In Florida, the property owner is responsible for a construction defect after accepting the work from the contractor. See Slavin v. Kay, 108 So. 2d 452 (Fla. 1958). Under Florida’s “Slavin doctrine,” a contractor, subcontractor, architect, or engineer is not held legally responsible after their work has been completed and accepted by the property owner even if the property owner has no knowledge of the construction defect.
After work has been completed, legal liability rests on the property owner to perform regular inspections of their property and to look for latent defects that may cause injury. These claims are typically paid from the business’s commercial general liability policy.
Negligent Mode Of Operation
A frequently forgotten cause of action in premises liability cases is the theory for a “negligent mode of operation.” This cause of action is different than a property owners duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. Instead, a negligent mode of operation refers to the way that a business conducts its operations and whether the business can and should do anything to make it safer. This issue was addressed in Khorran v. Harbor Freight Tools, Inc. (Fla. 3d DCA 2018).
An example of a case for negligent mode of operation is when a business decides where to put commonly purchased items on top shelves that require a ladder or are placed in such a way that other items might get knocked off. In such a case, the jury has to determine whether the business negligent in stacking items on a shelf at a particular height, in a particular manner, and at a particular location. See Klaue v. Galencare, Inc., 696 So. 2d 933 (Fla. 2d 1997). From a common sense standpoint, if there is a better way to place items on shelves where the risk of injury is lower, then a business should do so.
Hire an Attorney for Your Slip and Fall Injury Today
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury as a result of a premises liability issue, please contact a Lakeland slip and fall attorney to discuss the facts of your case. A consultation with a Lakeland slip and fall lawyer is free. Please call to set up your appointment with an attorney.
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For recent legal topics, please see our personal injury blog or read our answers to frequently asked questions. We help clients located in Polk County, including Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, and Haines City, Florida who have injuries as a result of a slip and fall or dangerous condition on the premises of a business.