How Corporate Defense Lawyers Can Try And Confuse Victims In Personal Injury Cases
A basic principle of Florida slip-and-fall accident lawsuits is that the plaintiff must prove the defendant had “actual or constructive knowledge” of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s accident. In plain language, if you slip on a puddle of water in a store aisle, you need to show the management of the store either (a) knew that puddle was there before you slipped or (b) should have known it was there had the management exercised its due diligence.
Florida Appeals Court: Plaintiff’s Confusion Over Legal Distinctions Not Grounds for Dismissing Her Lawsuit
The latter option–constructive notice–often confuses accident victims who are not well versed in the law. A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Greeley v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, illustrates how this confusion can affect a personal injury case.
The underlying facts are fairly simple. The plaintiff was shopping at Walmart one day when she “slipped and fell on a small puddle of clear liquid.” The plaintiff injured her back and knee in the fall and subsequently sued Wal-Mart for compensation. Walmart insisted it had no actual or constructive notice of the puddle prior to the plaintiff’s accident.
In a deposition, Walmart attorneys questioned the plaintiff about the accident. The plaintiff repeated her description of the puddle as a “clearish” liquid that was probably water. Walmart counsel then asked, “Do you have any reason to believe that Walmart knew the water was on the floor before you slipped?” The plaintiff replied, “Yes.” She elaborated, “When the manager came over, she looked directly at me and said, I thought we fixed this,” referring to a leak from the ceiling.
The Walmart attorney then posed several more questions and again asked “if you have any reason to believe on that day  if Walmart knew that there was water on the floor before you fell.” The plaintiff replied, “No, I don’t know.”
Following the deposition, the plaintiff filed a separate affidavit further elaborating on what happened. She explained that had she been asked, she would have said the puddle “had footprints and shopping cart tracks” indicating that people had already walked through the puddle prior to her fall. Walmart argued the affidavit was a “sham” and that the plaintiff’s “contradictory” deposition testimony invalidated her entire case. The trial court apparently agreed, struck the affidavit, and granted summary judgment to Walmart.
The Second District, however, said that was premature. The appellate court said the plaintiff’s affidavit did not “contradict or repudiate her deposition testimony.” The Court also pointed out that any apparent contradictions within the plaintiff’s testimony was due to Walmart’s counsel asking a “series of questions inviting her to speculate” about what Walmart knew. As a nonlawyer, the plaintiff understandably had difficulty in grasping the legal distinction between “knowing Walmart” had knowledge of the puddle and “having reason to believe” it knew.
Speak with a Florida Premises Liability Attorney Today
Personal injury lawsuits are often overwhelming for victims who have no prior experience with the legal system. That is why it is essential to work with a qualified Boca Raton slip and fall accident lawyer. Contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.