Large Florida Slip-and-Fall Verdict Scrutinized by Court of Appeal

A successful personal injury trial for a plaintiff primarily hinges on whether or not the fact finder believes it is more likely than not the defendant(s) caused the resulting injury due to negligent behavior that falls short of a legal duty. While a jury is given great discretion in the type of facts they find to be true and supportive of a claim or defense, the trial court can make a determination at the end of each party’s presentation of evidence on whether or not the facts presented meet the set legal standard. If the facts fall short of the legal requirements for a successful claim, the court can issue a directed verdict. If this occurs at the end of the trial, it can override a jury verdict.

A motion for a directed verdict in a Florida slip-and-fall lawsuit was recently considered in a Florida Third District Court of Appeal decision. The grocery store argued on appeal it was entitled to a directed verdict because the injured party’s evidence fell short of showing the store had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition or that one of its employees caused the dangerous condition to occur. The Court of Appeal agreed, reversing the million-plus jury verdict and remanding the case for a new trial.

The injured person fell during a shopping excursion with her husband. The 70-year-old lady realized she forgot some items while in line to check out. Her husband went to find these products but also decided to buy some other things and order a sandwich. During this period, his wife went to find him after he took so long to return, falling and slipping on some water. She did not notice this water prior to the fall. When the husband returned to the checkout area, he found his wife sitting in a chair crying. The husband testified he remembered seeing a man with a “mop in his hand,” but he did not specifically recount what he was doing. The wife also testified she saw an employee with a mop in his hand, but she failed to provide any details beyond this description.

The woman suffered a shoulder injury because of the fall and had to have surgery a month after the accident. The jury awarded over $1.5 million in damages, including $1 million for pain and suffering. The grocery store filed post-trial motions, including a directed verdict, new trial, and a reduction in the awarded damages amount (known as remittitur). These were all denied, and the grocery store appealed. The grocery store argued the injured woman was obligated to meet the requirement in Florida Statutes section 768.0755, showing the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition created by a foreign substance that caused the slip and fall. At trial, the injured woman asserted she was not using a theory of constructive knowledge but actual knowledge, based on the presence of the man with the mop.

The court found this to be insufficient, pointing to case law that precludes a jury from relying on a collection of inferences to determine whether there was actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. The possibility of causation is also insufficient to show liability. If this is the only route to an award of damages, a directed verdict is the correct solution. The court looked at the lack of evidence showing the grocery store had any type of knowledge. The video evidence revealed one janitor on duty, who was only using a broom and dustpan to clean leading up to the moment when the injured person fell. There was no testimony by any party that stated the observed mop was wet. The grocery store manager testified the store uses dry mops to spot mop. The appellate court found the jury could only have arrived at its verdict by using stacked inferences from circumstantial evidence. Since this is not allowed, the Court of Appeal found the trial court erred by denying the store’s motion. The court’s denial was reversed and the case remanded with instructions to enter a judgment in the store’s favor.

The Florida slip-and-fall accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can help you aggressively pursue the damages you deserve. Our collective litigation experience and understanding of the law allows us to build a solid case on your behalf. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at 772-266-5555 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