Slip-and-Falls at Supermarkets

Florida grocery stores like Publix, Winn Dixie, Costco and Wal-Mart attract hundreds of thousands of customers every day. To each of those shoppers, these stores owe a duty of care to ensure the site is reasonably safe. That means keeping the floors and aisles in good condition. Miami slip-and-fall accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., know far too often, these businesses fail in this duty. When that breach results in a trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall that lands a customer in the hospital – or worse – there may be grounds to file a claim for damages, and possibly a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County.

The mere fact of a fall or even serious injury does not equal a successful claim. Florida law requires that the burden of proof in these cases is high. For lawsuits to be settled pre-trial, there must be ample evidence of the store’s negligence, with attorneys for the store must see clearly their odds of winning at trial are slim. That requires early involvement from a skilled injury lawyer who can help you gather the necessary evidence needed to be win.

Gerson & Schwartz PA, is a Miami trial law firm with have five decades of experience. We also don’t shy away from litigation. Most modern grocery stores are deep-pocketed corporations that invest heavily in legal defense. Large retailers especially tend to press for cases to go to trial. You need an advocate who can match them toe-to-toe in a court-of-law.

Examples of Miami Grocery Store Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Most American families are at the grocery store at least once a week, whether it’s stocking up in bulk or picking up a few odds-and-ends.

Customers are busy browsing store shelves while stockers pack them tight and arrange displays. Other employees are busy passing out samples while maintenance crews mop the aisles. A steady stream of patrons shuffle in and out, trampling in rainwater, mud and sand from outside. In all these activities, there is opportunity for the development of hazardous conditions on the floor.

Some of these might include:

  • Fallen and/or smashed fruits or vegetables;
  • Slippery entranceways from people carrying in mud or rain from outside;
  • Dropped canned goods;
  • Water spray on the floor in the produce aisle;
  • Leaks from the roof;
  • Condensation from counters or freezers causing puddles to form;
  • Broken bottles;
  • Bags opened with contents tossed in the aisle;
  • Dropped food samples;
  • Uneven flooring;
  • Missing or bunched-up rugs;
  • Improperly-stacked display shelves creating risk of falling merchandise;
  • Candies/ nuts/ seeds dropped from display bins.

As our lawyers can explain, the mere existence of these conditions alone is not sufficient to win a slip-and-fall lawsuit, but it is the foundation of it.

Duty of Care in Supermarket Premises Liability Claims

In any claim of general negligence, plaintiff’s attorney will need to show defendant:

  • Owed a duty of care;
  • Breached that duty;
  • Breach caused plaintiff’s injuries.

The standards in Florida’s premises liability law complicate matters a bit further. First, there is a question of the claimant’s status on site: Invitee, licensee or trespasser. In most cases involving grocery store shoppers, the plaintiff is considered a business invitee, which means he or she is owed the highest duty of care that can be afforded. This requires the business to keep the store in reasonably safe condition, to regularly inspect it for hazards and to warn visitors of possible dangers that may not be obvious.

Specifically as it relates to slip-and-falls, Florida Statute 768.0755 outlines the burden of proof in cases alleging transitory foreign substances in business establishments. This requires a showing that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to address it, but failed. Actual knowledge would mean the store created the condition or was notified of it. Constructive knowledge can be shown by establishing via circumstantial evidence that the condition either existed for long enough that the store should have discovered it in the course of using ordinary care or the condition occurred so often, it was foreseeable.

For instance, a store may not have been given actual notice that a puddle of water had formed next to a leaky freezer. However, if the freezer had been leaking for days or weeks, this would likely be strong evidence that the store had constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.

As noted in Florida Civil Jury Instruction 401.20, a jury will be asked to decide whether defendant store negligently failed to maintain the site in a reasonably safe condition or negligently failed to correct a dangerous condition about which the store either knew or should have known by use of reasonable care. Alternatively (or additionally), plaintiff may claim failure to warn by asserting defendant store failed to warn patron of dangerous condition about which it had or should have had knowledge (greater than that of claimant), and that this negligence was the cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

Stores have a duty to they were routinely checking the site to make sure the floors were safe for customers, and to promptly clean any dangerous condition discovered and to warn customers about it.

Defendant stores in these cases can and often do counter these claims by citing the “open-and-obvious” legal doctrine. This provision holds that if a condition was open and obvious to a reasonable person when plaintiff was injured, defendant won’t be liable for failing to fix it or warn patron because he or she could have spotted and avoided it just as easily as defendant could have warned of it.

In some cases, plaintiff may be held only partially responsible for failing to avoid an open and obvious hazard, per Florida’s comparative fault statute, Florida Statute 768.81. The law indicates plaintiffs won’t lose the right to collect damages just because they are partially responsible, but they may see their overall damages reduced proportionately to their fault. So a patron who is 60 percent at-fault will only be able to collect 40 percent of their total damages.

Grocery Store Slip-and-Fall Lawsuits

Many questions about the viability of a slip-and-fall case in Miami can be found in Florida’s case law. Looking at which cases prevailed – and which did not – can give us a good sense of how the courts will approach certain questions and issues.

Just a few examples include:

  • Brookie v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., weighed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. A grocery store patron tripped and fell on a prong sticking out of an empty beer shipment pallet. He had passed the delivery cart several times while traveling in-and-out of the store. His fourth time passing it, he tripped and fell. Trial and appellate court ruled when a plaintiff has equal knowledge of a dangerous condition (here being open and obvious), there is no duty to warn.
  • Papakalodoukas v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., weighed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. Appellate court affirmed $1.5 million verdict after plaintiff slipped and fell on a Gatorade sign and suffered injury to his shoulder and arm and had to undergo three surgeries. When he filed his claim, he knew only he slipped and fell on the floor sign. It wasn’t until the store was ordered to turn over surveillance tapes that he realized the display had been negligently assembled. By that time, the store (which had seen the tape) had discarded the display. The store argued the condition had existed for an ample length of time for it to have constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. However, patron argued the basis for the claim was that the store had knowledge of the condition because its employee created it. Jurors agreed and the appellate court affirmed, denying the store’s motion for a new trial.
  • Dantzler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., weighed by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal. Plaintiff slipped and fell on a wet spot on the floor. Two weeks prior, she had surgery on a pre-existing condition, and had a follow-up visit the day before her accident. She had no complaints about her surgery the day before. However, the fall caused irreversible nerve damage. Defendant insisted it checked the store for hazards, but it had destroyed the tape. Jurors awarded $1 million in damages for plaintiff, finding defendant store 80 percent liable.

Our slip-and-fall accident lawyers serving Miami recognize that while every case is different, many of these same issues are repeated in other grocery store fall injury claims. We are committed to helping you fight for the best possible outcome.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, please contact the Miami Injury Attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., for a free consultation by calling 305-371-6000 or using our online contact form.

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