By Janelle Squire, Esq.
Over the years, I have handled hundreds of cases that involved a slip (or trip) and fall incident. Sometimes these falls happen in a grocery store, gas station, theme park, or even a city/county owned sidewalk. But what makes the owner responsible for your incident? Tripping over your own feet is just an accident where no one is responsible, but in certain situations where your fall is caused by someone or something else, you may be entitled to make a claim.
The most important thing I can stress in these types of cases is the evidence involved. If you fall somewhere, make sure to document as much as possible. Take photos of your injuries, but also everything around you at the location. Document all the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses you speak to. And save copies of any incident reports you complete or receipts/bank statements that prove you were at the location. If you fall in a city or county owned park or sidewalk, make sure you have details about the location and take photos of the exact area. Properties can change very quickly due to renovations and construction, so it is important to have evidence of how things looked at the time of your incident.
In Florida, the law states that a claimant has the burden of proof and must prove that a company or owner acted unreasonably in the maintenance of the property, and that they knew (or should have known) that there was a hazard or dangerous condition that could hurt someone. In addition, many Florida courts have now indicated that they need to see factors that prove this knowledge in order for the jury to hear the case. For example, if a person is claiming to have slipped in a puddle of water at a grocery store, the court will want to know what proof there was to show that the store owner had knowledge the water was there. Dirty track marks in the water or witness statements could serve as evidence that the water was on the ground long enough, to prove that the store owner should have known the water was there and that it was unreasonable for it to have been there.
It is important to keep in mind that the owner may argue that the claimant should be held partly responsible for the incident in certain situations, such as: 1) being on a property where someone is not expected to be; 2) being under the influence or distracted while walking; 3) wearing improper shoes; 4) the hazard was open and obvious; or 5) there were warning signs or cones in the area.
If you have been involved in a slip and fall incident or have questions about your rights in this type of claim, please feel free to contact our office. We would love to speak with you and answer any concerns you have.