Especially for the elderly, slip and fall accidents can be dangerous and even life-changing. However, many people are unaware of the specific regulations surrounding these common accidents and how to go about asserting their rights if they believe someone has been negligent. Consulting an experienced attorney can make a big difference in your case and may even be the difference between being awarded compensation and receiving nothing.
Falls are the most common cause of emergency room visits, making up approximately 20 percent for the general population, with an even higher percentage for those over age 65. Most slip and falls are caused by an unknown substance on the floor of a business establishment or pathway. The relevant statute governing these “transitory” substances lays out the requirements in a straightforward manner. In order to recover, the injured person must show that the business had constructive knowledge (that is, that workers ought to have been aware) of the substance being on their floor. Given that it is difficult to establish constructive knowledge without resorting to circumstantial evidence, the statute sets out ways in which circumstantial evidence can be used.
There are two situations in which a court will likely ascribe constructive knowledge to a defendant business or landowner. The first is if the condition occurs regularly – for example, if ice crystals form each winter on a particular stretch of sidewalk or pathway. In a case like this, the owner of the land would be said to have constructive knowledge of the “transitory substance” (in this case, ice) on the path it is his or her responsibility to maintain. The second situation is if the condition existed for so long that a reasonably careful worker or owner ought to have seen it and acted – a good example is a spill in a supermarket. If a dangerous condition is allowed to exist without being eliminated, that fact may be enough to impute negligence to the establishment.
Premises Liability Issues
The law does stipulate that any common-law duty of care is not affected. This means that if a duty of care exists at common law between an owner and a visitor to the land or establishment, the duty remains in force. This duty of care is most often dealt with in what Florida law calls premises liability. At common law, a duty of care was said to exist between any two people in privity – that is, when their actions would directly affect each other. It is generally in this form that common-law duties of care survive, for the most part, and nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in premises liability.
A private person generally has a duty of care to maintain the property he or she owns or operates and to take reasonable care in ensuring its safety for those who enter upon the land. At common law, there were three defined classes of visitors – invitees, licensees, and trespassers – and a differently defined duty of care existed for each. Invitees are those invited onto the land by the owner, such as customers in a store, while licensees are either social guests or people like solicitors who enter upon land for their own purposes. Florida has changed the common-law definitions and duties of care somewhat so as to more clearly delineate between the categories and to adapt to changing social mores that make licensees much more scarce than they might once have been.
What this means for the average plaintiff is that if you are involved in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s premises, your ability to recover will at least partially depend on your status there. If you are a customer in a store, you are likely an invitee; if you are walking up to someone’s home, you may be a licensee, and if you are on someone else’s land without permission, you are a trespasser. Invitees are much more likely to recover under Florida law than members of the other two categories.
Enlist an Experienced Attorney
While many slip and fall accidents are minor, resulting in nothing more than bruises and embarrassment, some can cause significant injury, and the law surrounding these episodes can be quite confusing. Seeking the advice of a knowledgeable attorney who can help guide you through the process can be of great help. The skilled Fort Lauderdale slip and fall attorneys at The Law Office of Joseph J. LoRusso, P.A., have years of experience with these cases, and we are happy to put it to work for you. Contact us at 954-715-3260 today to set up a free consultation.