Florida Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Defendant Store in Premises Liability Action


Stores are required to use reasonable care in maintaining their premises in a reasonably safe condition.  If a customer is injured while shopping in a store, the store is not instantaneously liable for the injuries suffered.  An injured customer must show the store either created the dangerous condition, or had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition.  Florida premises liability can be a complicated area of law where it may be a boon to retain an attorney to guide you through the process of filing suit. The Third District Court of Appeal recently weighed in on whether this question should be considered by a jury.  The customer was shopping at a chain hardware store when a large metal object fell off an upper aisle shelf and struck him.  The customer was speaking to a store employee when the incident occurred.  He relayed that he did not see the object before it fell or after it fell, but noticed it falling from his peripheral vision.  The employee he was speaking to showed him a trailer hitch, explaining that that was what hit his knee. 

The store later asserted that heavy objects like hitches were only stored on lower shelves.  The injured testified he witnessed hitches that were stored on the top shelf eight or nine feet above the ground.  The injured customer eventually filed suit against the store for negligence and negligent mode of operation.  The store chain moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence the store had any knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition.  The store stated nothing was offered by the injured to show where the hitch was located at the time of the accident, that it was the store that created this condition, and that it was physically impossible for the accident to have occurred as described by the injured.  While the court disagreed with the characterization that the incident was “impossible”, it found there was no genuine issue of material fact.  The injured customer appealed.

The court noted that the evidence is to be viewed in a light most favorable to the appellant, and the appellant had previously offered that he saw the object fall from above, there were other employees stocking shelves at the time he was in the aisle, that a store employee identified the object from the hitch, and that he saw the hitch located on an upper shelf several feet above the ground.  The appellate court found there was a genuine question for a jury to decide as to whether the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.

Stores are also required to take reasonable precautions to eliminate the likelihood of a dangerous condition.  This potential liability focuses on the store’s manner of operation instead of the details of the incident alleged.  Stores can be liable for creating a dangerous or unsafe condition.  The hardware store employee testified that when the store receives a shipment of trailer hitches, an employee takes the hitches from the box they’re shipped in and place them on store shelves.  Sometimes, because they are stacked loosely, they fall and create dents on the floor. 

The appellate court concluded it was up to the jury to decide whether the store complied with its own stated policy to stock heavy items on lower shelves, or the store was stocking heavy items high off the ground as seen by the injured.  Since there were genuine issues of material fact available for a jury to consider, the court found the summary judgment in favor of the defendant to be in error.  The judgment was reversed and remanded to the trial court, allowing the injured customer to pursue his premises liability suit.

The Florida premises liability attorneys of Donaldson & Weston have the personal injury trial experience you need at your side.  For a free, confidential consultation call our office today at  772-266-555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017