Florida Slip-and-Fall Incidents: Business Duties

Premises liability, or slip-and-fall, claims are an often-misunderstood type of personal injury claim in Florida.  One aspect of these claims that often baffles many Florida residents is who is responsible for the safety and cleanliness of the premises where a business is operated.  Many people have an image of someone slipping and falling on a banana peel or a spilled bottle of salad dressing at the grocery store and they may wonder exactly what duty a business owner or operator has in connection with preventing exactly such incidents.  This is particularly true where the person fell as a result of something which accumulated on the floor but the business or its employees, who were in the best position to know and do something about it, claim to have had no knowledge of the existence of this hazard.

Thankfully, in the case of such transitory foreign substances, Florida law permits individuals who have been injured in a slip-and-fall incident to introduce evidence in support of their claims which would show that the business and/or its employees were in the best position to know about and/or prevent such an incident, even if the business owner or operator is claiming that he or she knew nothing about the substance that had accumulated on the business’s floor.  This is a rule which makes the situation fundamentally fair for a slip-and-fall victim, given that he or she may not have been familiar with the premises and would not have been in the best position to prevent such a hazard from occurring.

The Types of Serious Injuries Suffered as a Result of Slip-and-Fall Injuries

Slip-and-fall claims can and often do result in serious injuries, particularly to the spine or lower back, given this is the area of the body upon which people most often fall when they suffer a slip-and fall-incident.  The very nature of a slip-and-fall claim often is that a person has a traumatic impact to his or her lower back or spine.  A number of the symptoms commonly associated with a slip-and-fall injury include herniated discs, fractured vertebrae, soft tissue damage, or even nerve damage.  The spine is like a canal through which many of the nerves that control both sensation (the ability to feel) and function (the ability to move) in the legs and lower part of the body travel.  This impact alone thus can cause permanent nerve damage, which can result in excruciating pain in the legs or lower back.

The Law Relating to Slip-and-Fall Incidents in Florida

Pursuant to Florida law, property owners are required to keep their property in reasonably safe condition.  This duty includes requirements to protect any guests or visitors to the property from any dangers or dangerous conditions on the property.  If the property owner fails to do so, then a victim who is injured can sue the property owner or operator.  In order to successfully prove a slip-and-fall claim in Florida, a victim first must prove the owner of the property on which the victim fell owed what the law calls a “duty of care” to the victim.  Under Florida law, every business is deemed to owe a duty of care to any person who enters the business; that is, to maintain the business premises in reasonably safe condition and to warn the persons of any dangerous conditions of which the business owner or operator actually is or should be aware.  Second, the victim must demonstrate that he or she was injured because the business or property owner failed to uphold his or her duty of care.  However, a special rule applies in the case of what are known as transitory foreign substances.

The Special Rules That Apply Regarding “Transitory Foreign Substances” on Business Premises in Florida

For business owners and operators in Florida, transitory foreign substances which accumulate on the floor are such an issue that Florida’s Legislature passed a specific law related to what happens when an individual slips and falls on a business’s premises as a result of a transitory foreign substance.  In order to prove a premises liability claim related to a transitory foreign substance, an injured person is required to prove the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition, failed to repair, clean up or give its patrons warning of this dangerous condition, and that the individual was injured as a result of the dangerous condition.  Many business owners will claim they had no knowledge of a dangerous condition which resulted in someone’s slip-and-fall incident.

However, Florida law permits a victim to introduce evidence that the business owner had constructive knowledge of a foreign transitory substance like a puddle of water on the business owner’s premises.  Constructive knowledge means that the business knew or should have known about the transitory foreign substance and the danger it posed to the business’s patrons. Constructive knowledge on the part of a business or its employees can be proven by showing (i) the dangerous condition existed for so long the business should have known of it or (ii) the condition occurred so regularly it was foreseeable.  To borrow the grocery store example above, a grocery store and its employees are used to customers or staff members inadvertently dropping jars or bottles which then can either break or crack and then leak onto the floor.  It therefore would be foreseeable that this type of incident would occur; a grocery store would be liable if someone slipped and fell in the store and was injured given that this type of incident most likely had happened before and could reasonably be expected to occur again.

 Why This Rule Makes Sense

This rule makes sense because the business and its employees are in the best position to prevent these types of incidents.  Florida law therefore places the burden on the business owner, rather than the person who was injured, to take steps to clean up such substances given that the business owner or operator and its employees know the premises better than the individual who fell and was injured.

Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys of Schwed, Adams & McGinley

Slip-and-fall incidents occur frequently in Florida business establishments and on other Florida properties and can result in very serious injuries to those who may be the victim of someone else’s failure to maintain their property in a safe condition or to remedy an obviously dangerous and unsafe condition on their property.  If you have been injured by the failure of a business or individual to maintain his, her or its property in a safe manner, contact the experienced slip-and-fall attorneys of Schwed Adams & McGinley today at (877) 694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation regarding your particular situation.  At Schwed, Adams & McGinley, we are experienced and aggressive personal injury attorneys with over 150 years of combined legal experience who have successfully handled hundreds of slip-and-fall incidents throughout the State of Florida and have recovered maximum damages for our clients no matter the extent of their injuries.