A slip and fall personal injury matter in Florida occurs when one is injured by falling due to some condition in a property that the one in control of the property had a duty to make and keep safe. Slip and fall injuries occur from the proverbial slip on a banana peel, to falling down on unreasonably dangerous stairs.
In general, to prove a personal injury slip and fall matter in Florida it is necessary to show that 1) the defendant was the owner and was in possession of the property where the fall occurred, 2) the property was used as, for example a supermarket, 3) the plaintiff entered onto the property for a legal purpose, which then created a duty on behalf of the property owner to make the property safe, 4) there was a dangerous condition on the property that the defendant either knew about, such as a crack in the floor, or should have known about due to the passing of time, such as a water spill, and 5) due to the dangerous condition, the plaintiff fell and was injured.
All owners of properties owe a duty to their invitees to use reasonable care to keep their premises in safe condition. Everett v. Restaurant & Catering Corp., 738 So.2d 1015, 1016 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999). Despite this, the general rule is that when there is slippery substance on the floor, such as a water spill, the injured plaintiff will need to be able to prove that the owner of the property knew about the water spill and failed to clean it up, or alternatively, that due to the passage of time, the owner should have know of the water spill. Premises like supermarkets have a duty to monitor their stores and set cleaning and maintenance schedules to look for things such as water spills. Further, in the instance of a water spill, the premises owner might still be liable even if they put up a sign that said “Danger, wet floor”, if a reasonably prudent supermarket owner would have cleaned up the spill immediately.
To prove that the owner knew of the water spill, circumstantial evidence will need to be proved by the plaintiff showing that 1) the dangerous condition was present for such a length of time that a premises owner in the exercise of reasonably prudent care would have known about the condition, or 2) this type of dangerous condition, such as a water spill, occurred with such regularity that it was reasonably foreseeable that such a condition would be present and that the owner should have taken action to prevent it. With respect to the second condition, in the example of a supermarket, spills are bound to happen and products, such as fruit, are bound to fall on the ground, creating dangerous conditions. It is the duty of the supermarket operator to maintain the premises and clean them with sufficient regularity to protect the public.
According to Charles W. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence Section 301.1 (2000 ed.), premises liability cases involving transitory foreign substances are the right type of case where the burden of proof should shift to the store owner to prove that it used reasonable care in maintaining its premises, thus eliminating the requirement that the plaintiff prove that the store owner had constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition prior to the matter going to trial before jury. This shifting burden is based on fairness and public policy. There is therefore a rebuttable presumption in a slip and fall case that the store did not exercise reasonable care in its maintenance of the premises. See Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So.2d 315, 331 (Fla. 2001). See also Florida Statutes Section 768.0710 (2005).
With respect to slip and fall injuries at amusement parks, a particularly relevant issue in the Sunshine State, the Florida Supreme Court created a special rule by imposing a higher duty of care for owners and operators of amusement parks to the public. With amusement park injuries, the parks have a continuous duty to maintain the safety of their patrons and can be liable even without notice or knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the fall as long as they are considered negligent in their maintenance and supervision of the park.