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Federal Appellate Court Decision Demonstrates Evidentiary Challenges in Slip and Fall Lawsuits

Some people do not understand the difficult challenges injury victims must overcome when injured in a slip and fall on the premises of a business. While premises liability law authorizes an individual injured in a fall to pursue a legal claim for financial compensation against the owner of a business or commercial property, Florida law makes the task of proving negligence challenging. The difficult burden of establishing the appropriate knowledge by the business owner makes it important to seek prompt legal advice from an experienced Miami slip and fall lawyer. In this blog post, we examine a recent federal court decision that reveals these evidentiary obstacles.

In Piotrowski v. Meanrd, Inc, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision for the defense in a trip and fall case. The plaintiff tripped on rocks in a parking lot next to and operated by a large chain hardware store. The complaint filed by the plaintiff indicated she tripped on rocks in the lot located close to the store exit. The plaintiff also alleged that the rocks resembled or were identical to rocks sold by the hardware store. The store, which sold the stones as decorative river rock, also used the rocks in a decorative planter positioned close to the site of the trip and fall accident. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries that included multiple broken bones and torn ligaments. Her injuries necessitated multiple surgeries and periods of hospitalization.

Under the law of the jurisdiction, which is similar to Florida, the plaintiff needed to establish that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff to trip and fall. When the hazard is created by an employee of the business, knowledge of the existence of the hazard can be imputed to the business because it is reasonable to assume the business should have known of its existence under these circumstances. When someone other than an employee of the business causes the hazard on premises under the control of the defendant, the plaintiff must establish that an employee actually knew of the hazard or that the business should have known. This "constructive knowledge" frequently is established by the duration of time the hazard was present or a pattern of behavior by employees of the business.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that the plaintiff was required to offer evidence beyond supposition that the defendant's employees were responsible for causing the hazard or that the business had knowledge (constructive or actual) of the existence of the hazard. The plaintiff did not present any evidence indicating how the rocks ended up in the parking lot or the duration of time the rocks were present, so the trial and appellate courts agreed the plaintiff failed to prove her case.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence

Because our law firm has represented many clients injured by unsafe conditions on the premises of a business, we recognize the fact-intensive nature of slip and fall cases on Florida. We engage in a prompt investigation on behalf of clients to ascertain facts to meet the knowledge requirement in lawsuits involving falls. We gather evidence that might include accident reports, maintenance records, investigation of flooring and surrounding circumstances, surveillance footage, and other evidence. Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation. 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.

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