Slip and Fall Law in Florida – an Update:
The Jury Giveth, the 3rd DCA Taketh Away
NEW CASE LAW – a new 3rd DCA Decision requires injured slip and fall plaintiffs to prove their case. In Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Jessie Bellaiche, No3D 16-1983 (Fla. 3rd DCA March 28, 2018), the court noted that §768.0755, Florida Statutes, the injured Plaintiff was required to prove that Publix had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition created by a transient foreign substance that caused Bellaiche’s slip and fall. Bellaiche at trial proceeded under a theory of actual knowledge because she alleged “the man standing with the mop” caused the water to be on the floor in aisle 17. However, her testimony was that, after she fell, she saw a man holding a mop and that he was standing there, nothing more. The court held a jury may not stack inferences to determine that a party had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, nor is the mere possibility of causation sufficient to establish liability. (citations omitted). The court further noted that there was no evidence that Publix had actual notice of the dangerous condition, presumably water on the floor based on her testimony that her pants were wet.
Video evidence clearly demonstrated that the only janitor on duty at the time had not been using anything other than a broom and a dustpan to clean, leading up to the exact moment at which Bellaiche fell. Not one person testified that the mop that this man was holding was wet. The Publix store manager testified that his store uses dry rayon mops to spot mop its floors, not presoaked cotton mops. In short, the court held a reasonable jury could not have found that Publix had actual knowledge of the water that caused Bellaiche to slip and fall. The trial court thus erred in denying Publix’s motion for a directed verdict. Hence, Bellaiche was “robbed” of her 1.5-million-dollar jury award by the Third District Court of Appeal.
The above case illustrates the importance of proving actual or constructive knowledge that a dangerous condition existed or was created by a transient foreign substance. Importantly, too, an experienced practitioner prior to pursuing a slip and fall claim, against entities such as Publix, Winn Dixie or other commercial establishments, must investigate and analyze whether or not the plaintiff is in a position to prove his or her case. Please call our experienced staff and lawyers should you wish a free consultation on any potential slip and fall claim in Florida.