Frequently Asked Questions - What Is The Duty of a Business Establishment To Prevent a Slip and Fall?
Florida law dictates that property owners are required to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. Florida business establishments are duty bound to protect their patrons from any dangers or dangerous conditions on the premises and to also warn its patrons of any dangerous conditions that may be present on the premises. If the business establishment fails to maintain their premises in a safe and prudent manner or warn its patrons of any hazardous condition that are present, and someone is injured as a result, the business establishment would be considered negligent and the injured party can sue the property owner or operator for compensation for their medical expenses and their pain and suffering.
Florida law upholds business owners to a very high standard when inspecting their premises for dangerous conditions and correcting any dangerous conditions. Seeing as the property owner and its operators has a legal duty to fix any hazardous conditions on their premises or to warn its patrons of the dangerous conditions, if they did neither, this would clearly establish liability.
In order to successfully pursue the business establishment in a personal injury case, negligence must first be proved. The evidence presented, whether it be direct evidence or circumstantial evidence, must prove that the defendant negligently maintained their premises and the plaintiff suffered significant injuries as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence in maintaining their premises in a safe and prudent manner. The four elements of negligence are as follows:
- A legal duty owed by the Defendant to the Plaintiff;
- Breach of that duty by the Defendant;
- Injury to the Plaintiff caused by the Defendant’s breach; and
- Damages as a result of the injury to the Plaintiff.
Other ways to establish negligence would be to prove that the property owner or the business establishment operators created the condition (i.e. they recently mopped or over waxed their floors and did not put out a wet floor sign, which they are required to do), the property owner or the business establishment operators knew the condition existed and failed to remedy it (i.e. it was seen on video surveillance footage that an employee noticed a water spill on the floor but never returned to clean it up or even place a wet floor sign as a caution to the patrons), or the dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that the property owner or the business establishment operators should have discovered and rectified it prior to the slip and fall in question (i.e. a water spill was present on the premise’s floor for 7 hours without any employee cleaning it up or even noticing it – this would be grounds for “constructive knowledge” – meaning the establishment would be deemed to have knowledge of the spill even though they did not have actual knowledge of the spill because they should have known about it through their duty bound practice of reasonable care).
The business establishment is also required to protect its patrons from injury as a result of any “transitory foreign substances”. Transitory foreign substances are any items that are not where they normally belong. For example, clothing or clothing hangers on the floor instead of folded on a table or hung on a rack, grease, garbage, or food on the floor, etc. Any of these items or substances would be immensely dangerous slip and falls hazards for patrons.
An inference can be made that the defendant is guilty of negligence once the following requirements are met:
- The incident in question would not normally occur unless someone acted negligently;
- The evidence confirms that the plaintiff did not cause the injury in question nor did they contribute to it; and
- The negligence in question falls within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.
Also, not only one hazardous condition may come into play when proving negligence. “Secondary hazardous conditions” are often found and used when a plaintiff is establishing liability against the defendant. An example of such would be a patron slipping and falling on a puddle of grease in a poorly lit parking garage due to lighting fixture bulbs being were out and not replaced. The puddle of grease would be the hazardous condition and the poor lighting would be the secondary hazardous condition. Even if the parking garage placed a “caution wet floor” sign where the puddle of grease was located, that does not absolve them from any liability. They would still be negligent for the fall due to the secondary hazard – their facility being poorly lit. Poor lighting is in and of itself is a dangerous condition as patrons cannot be expected to notice impending danger if they cannot properly and adequately see.
A business establishment would also be held liable for a patron’s slip and fall injuries if they were proven to have violated the statutes. Let us say that a patron slipped and fell on a staircase. And following the investigation phase, it comes to light that the property owner failed to put in place the proper handrails in the proper location per the building codes. This would be evidence of gross negligence on behalf of the defendant as if they would have installed the handrails appropriately instead of violating the building codes, no harm would have come to the plaintiff. Seeing as this is direct evidence of the property owner not exercising reasonable due care and maintaining their premises in a negligent and unsafe manner, the plaintiff would have a valid personal injury claim.
Additionally, a business owner/ operator is duty bound to protect its patrons from reasonably foreseeable injury from other patrons. This duty includes an obligation to warn its patrons of any potential dangers created by other patrons themselves. For instance, a patron sustaining serious bodily injury from another patron who was recklessly and violently exiting the establishment while attempting to shoplift.
Business establishments are held to an extremely high standard in the State of Florida in regards to protecting its patrons from dangerous conditions on its premises and using reasonable due care in to maintain a safe premises. Although the burden of proof is on the plaintiff in proving the defendant’s negligence in slip and fall cases, an experienced personal injury attorney is well versed on any and all applicable statutes and legal doctrines to ensure a successful claim. So, if you have recently been injured in a slip and fall, I strongly urge you to seek the legal advice of an attorney.