When you are a customer shopping in a store, or you are renting an apartment from a landlord, you expect that the store or your apartment and the areas around the place where you live to be kept in a safe condition that will prevent you from being injured.
In fact, Florida law requires that business owners and landlords use ordinary care in keeping their premise in a reasonably safe condition. See generally La Villarena, Inc. v. Acosta, 597 So. 2d 336 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992). What this means is that a property owner must correct dangerous conditions which the owner knows or reasonably should know about, as well as give you timely notice of any latent or concealed defects that are known to the owner.
Florida law also requires the landowner to undertake reasonable steps to repair any dangers that the owner should know about in order to prevent injury. A dangerous condition could be a stairwell without a railing, a defective ramp, or a number of other conditions that present an unreasonable risk of harm to those on the property. If the owner of the property has actual knowledge of the dangerous condition which could foreseeably lead to injury to someone on the property, then the owner has an affirmative duty to correct the condition. Mazyck v. Caribbean Lawn, Inc., 587 So. 2d 573 (Fla 3d DCA 1991). The law also requires a landowner to take reasonable steps to learn of any dangerous conditions by inspecting the property at reasonable intervals of time. Essentially, the law does not allow property owners to bury their heads in the sand in order to avoid learning about hazards on their property that may injury others.
Florida law distinguishes between an injury you sustain from a dangerous or defective condition on someone’s property and when you fall on a liquid or other “transitory substance.” Unfortunately, the law has undergone quite a transformation in the past ten years and it has not been in the favor of those who are injured in these types of cases. In fact, under Section 768.0755, Florida Statutes, it is you as the injured plaintiff who has the burden of showing that the business establishment—whether it be a super market, a mall, or a retail store—had either actual knowledge or “constructive knowledge” of the substance that you fell on. Showing that the owner had “constructive knowledge” of what you slipped on can be done by offering evidence that the owner should have known about the substance because the substance was on the floor for an extended length of time or because it was normal for substances to be spilled in that area, i.e., it happened with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.
With a solid understanding of what you are required to show in order to succeed on a slip and fall claim, it is also imperative that you know what to do if you are ever the victim of a slip and fall.
The following guidelines can help protect your rights:
Be careful trying to get up. Often times in the heat of the moment following a slip and fall one feels embarrassed or panicked and tries to quickly stand up. This could result in further injury.
Gather information about any potential witnesses to your fall. If you are traveling with a companion, have he or she take the names and contact information of anyone who saw you fall. This information becomes imperative in litigating your claim and corroborating your story.
Call a store manager or other store employee to give a statement and fill out an incident report. The significance of this step cannot be overstated. Remember, if you do not let the store owner know you’ve fallen and are injured, they will attempt to argue your fall never occurred. Filling out an incident report also triggers a business owner’s obligation to preserve any video surveillance that may have captured your fall. Without filling out an incident report, this often powerful evidence might never be preserved and provided to you during litigation.
Record your own statement of your fall. Unfortunately, many who are injured in a slip and fall think that if they give their statement and version of events to store personnel in an incident report form they will be able to obtain a copy of the report later on. This is untrue. Florida courts have found that these types of reports are “prepared for in anticipation of litigation,” and therefore “privileged” under Florida’s “work product doctrine.” What this means to you is that the store owner, as a defendant in a lawsuit, does not have to turn that incident report over to you or your attorney during your case. Accordingly, it is imperative that you create your own report or what happened and of what exactly you say to the store personnel. A lawsuit can take time to pursue and memory often fades. Keeping a diary of events and a record of your injuries will aid you down the road.
Take photos. Just like asking to fill out an incident report form, having photos taken of the substance you fell on and of your clothing and any visible injuries are key. If you do not have a cell phone with a camera, ask to borrow one from an eyewitness. Do not think that just because store personnel are taking photos that you don’t need to—based on certain rules of evidence in Florida, the store will not have to turn those photos over to you.
Do not accept a gift card or something similar in exchange for signing a release on the spot. I often hear of store owners offering a gift card to someone who has fallen in hopes that the victim will sign a release and therefore forfeit their right to bring a claim later. Do not fall victim to this. Some injuries do not present themselves until days later, so your future might be uncertain. What is certain, however, is that if you sign a release on the spot, you will give up your right to recover for your injuries against the store later on.
Talk to an attorney. Knowing your rights and understanding what to do if you find yourself involved in a slip in fall or suffering an injury on someone’s property, is crucial to protecting yourself and your loved ones. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group have the knowledge, time, and resources to litigate these claims. For more information call 727-451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765