Understanding Constructive Knowledge in a Slip and Fall
In Oliver v. Winn-Dixie, a Florida appellate court recently considered a case in which a plaintiff alleged that she fell on a liquid substance on the floor at a Winn-Dixie store and that Winn-Dixie had constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. The case was before the court on appeal of a granted motion for summary judgment that had been made by Winn-Dixie based on a successful argument that there was a complete absence of any evidence demonstrating it had constructive knowledge. The question was whether Winn-Dixie had established that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether it had constructive knowledge about the grape or surrounding liquid. The summary judgment evidence before the court included:
- Depositions of the plaintiff, her daughter, and a customer who witnessed the fall
- As filed by Winn-Dixie, affidavits of its customer service manager and the employee who last passed by the incident area.
The plaintiff argued that the lower court had incorrectly placed the burden on her to prove Winn-Dixie had constructive knowledge of the dangerous substance on the floor. The court agreed with the plaintiff that she did not have to prove that Winn-Dixie had constructive knowledge of the substance at the summary judgment stage of the proceeding. However, once Winn-Dixie satisfied its summary judgment burden of showing that there were no disputed factual issues about its constructive knowledge, the burden had shifted to the plaintiff to present counter-evidence sufficient to reveal a genuine issue.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the court ultimately determined that none of facts of the slip and fall incident suggested that the grape and surrounding liquid were on the ground for enough time to impute constructive knowledge to Winn-Dixie. In particular, it pointed to the fact that:
- There were no cart wheel tracks in the liquid
- Neither the plaintiff, her daughter, or the customer who happened to be shopping in the area when the plaintiff fell the saw the grape or surrounding liquid before the fall
- An employee passed by the area four times in a thirty minute period before the plaintiff fell and attested that it was clean, dry and free of any debris each time
Based on these facts, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to meet her burden. Therefore, it affirmed the motion for summary judgment that had been granted in favor of Winn-Dixie.
What is the Law in Florida?
There is a common misconception that simply falling in a location means that the business or entity will automatically be held liable. But unfortunately, as illustrated in the example above, every slip and fall does not warrant the same kind of compensation. It is important to understand that the commercial slip and fall law here in Florida generally requires a showing that the business establishment had actual knowledge or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it. Because actual knowledge is typically difficult to demonstrate, most plaintiffs including the one in Oliver instead seek to show that a business had constructive knowledge which may be proven by circumstantial evidence. This is proven by showing that either:
- The condition was foreseeable because it occurred regularly; or
- The dangerous condition existed for so long that the establishment should have known about the condition as it monitored the premises.
Seek Help Today.
You may have a premises liability claim if you or a loved one has been injured in a slip and fall accident. As the premises liability attorneys at Leifer & Ramirez with offices in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, we can analyze the facts of your case and advise you of the best route to ensure that you don’t slip in your pursuit of the benefits that you deserve. Contact us today to begin.