For years it has been well established in the state of Florida that a business owner owes two duties to all invitees:
- To use reasonable care in maintaining its premises in a reasonably safe condition
- To warn the invitee of concealed dangers that are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care
In 2001, the Florida Supreme Court held in Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc. that a transitory foreign substance on the floor of a business premises (like a spilled liquid) is not a safe condition and there mere existence of such a condition would create a rebuttable presumption that the premises was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition. Consequently, once a party established there was a transitory foreign substance that caused him to fall, the legal burden shifted to the store owner to prove that they exercised reasonable care in maintaining the premises. Essentially, this decision relieved plaintiffs from proving their cases and instead forced these store owners to prove their “innocence”. This burden shift alarmed business owners and their insurers in the face of a potential increase in the number of slip and fall cases and adverse verdicts.
On April 10, 2010, Governor Charlie Crist signed into law House Bill 689, which has been seen as a huge victory to business owners and their insurers. In effect, this tort reform bill creates Florida Statute 768.075 and replaces Florida Statute 768.0710. This new law reinstates slip and fall law in Florida as it was prior to the case of Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc.
Since July 1, 2010 the new law provides that a slip and fall plaintiff must prove the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of a transitory foreign substance or object alleged to have caused injury.
According to Florida Statute 768.0755, constructive knowledge could be proven by circumstantial evidence that:
(a) The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition; or,
(b) The condition occurred regularly and was therefore foreseeable.
This does not affect a store owner’s common law duty of care to its invitees as discussed above. However, it does place the burden of proof back on the Plaintiff, as it were before the Owens case. Because of this change, litigation results will favor business owners and their insurers more frequently. They will save much more time and money defending claims where the business owner had no actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.
But hope is not lost. Even though a spilled liquid or misplaced item on a floor is no longer a presumption of negligence to be rebutted by the defendant, many slip and fall victims are still able to successfully recover for their injuries and even loss of earnings. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help you recover what you’ve lost. We’ll locate and interview witnesses and former employees. We’ll document any damage to property or bodily injury. We’ll gather store policies and procedures and much more.