Although the Walt Disney World slogan is that the amusement park is "the happiest place on earth," dense crowds, darkness, and visual distractions create an atmosphere that increases the risk of a serious fall. Guests of the "Magic Kingdom" or other Florida amusement parks can suffer severe injury when falling because of improper maintenance of walkways, sidewalks, and parking lots. Our amusement park accident lawyers recognize that visitors injured in falls while touring theme parks or other major tourist attractions in Florida frequently face an uphill battle. In this blog, we review a case where a plaintiff effectively used evidence provided by the theme park's own expert to withstand summary judgment.
The plaintiff seriously injured her knee when she slipped while stepping off a curb on Main Street inside the park. Her complaint alleged that Walt Disney World Hospitality & Recreation Corporation failed to warn guests (legally considered "invitees") of unsafe conditions and to maintain the property in reasonably safe condition for patrons. Because of this failure, the plaintiff alleged she slipped on unsafe caulking while stepping off the curb. During her deposition, the plaintiff testified that she was paying attention and looking down at the curb as she stepped off. She did not see what caused her to fall but noticed a broken off section of sidewalk caulking made of rubber that was bent after she fell. Because she did not observe any other obstacle that could have caused her to slip, she assumed that the folded over caulking triggered her fall.
The company filed a motion for summary judgment based on the common defense that it had no reason to know of the unsafe condition. However, the plaintiff relied on evidence from a person Disney identified as "most knowledgeable regarding repairs and maintenance" of walkways on Main Street. He admitted that he routinely removed loose rubber caulk when he observed it because he considered it a tripping hazard. If he observed loose expansion joint caulk he would pull it out and cut it away. His testimony suggested other company employees also were aware of the danger posed by the caulking.
When evaluating Walt Disney's motion for summary judgment, the court noted a property owner can be liable where the owner reasonably should have anticipated the hazard might cause injury. The court also acknowledged this rule applies in Florida even if the unsafe condition is "open and obvious."
The Florida Court of Appeals reasoned that the testimony of the Disney employee regarding the maintenance and risks related to the caulking was sufficient evidence of constructive knowledge of the hazard to withstand summary judgment. While the plaintiff could not establish the caulking actually caused the fall, the court concluded that an inference was reasonable given the lack of other apparent causes.
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This decision reveals the importance of experience when handling slip and fall cases in falls off curbs or in parking lots. An investigation of the maintenance practices yielded testimony to help the plaintiff avoid summary judgment with a Disney employee providing the key testimony. If you are injured in a fall, our Miami law firm believes in conducting prompt investigations to prevent valuable evidence from disappearing and memories from fading. Our lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance clients need to pursue the results they desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.