As Miami-Dade and Broward County personal injury attorneys who protect people from others’ negligence, we know that it’s not always easy to hold a property owner responsible in trip-and-fall cases. There is sometimes a stigma attached to these kinds of claims, where people assume that anyone suing because they fell down is simply looking to blame someone for an embarrassing accident or to make easy money.
At Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert, we understand that overcoming this stigma is just part of the process of proving your injury could have been prevented had the property owners made an adequate effort to keep their property safe. That being said, there are a number of specific things that are required to prove fault in Florida trip-and-fall cases.
Florida Property Owners Have a Duty to Maintain Safe Conditions
While Florida property owners have a responsibility to maintain safe properties, this duty isn’t all-encompassing. Let’s say store management installs shopping-cart bumper near the door, to encourage shoppers to slow down and not bump into each other. If warning of that bump is clearly installed and you trip and fall on that bump, it’s quite likely that the property owner won’t be held liable for any injuries that you sustain. However, they are required to do what they can to keep you safe – your job, and the job of your lawyers, is to prove that they neglected this duty.
In order for Florida property owners to be held legally responsible for a trip-and-fall accident, the following are some of the factors that should be true as applicable:
- The dangerous condition in question was caused by the owner or an employee. This could include spilling something, breaking a light bulb and leaving the area in darkness, or leaving an item in your path that caused you to trip.
- The owner or an employee knew about the problem that caused your fall, but— for whatever reason—didn’t do anything about it.
- If the management or employees didn’t actually know about the condition because it was caused by someone else (i.e. another customer). However the defect or dangerous condition existed for a reasonable period of time and SHOULD HAVE been discovered, repaired or removed.
Should Haves and Reasonableness
All you need to do is prove that property owners or employees caused the issue, or show documented evidence that they knew about it and essentially shrugged, apparently trusting luck to get them through.
Sounds easy right? But this kind of clear-cut evidence does not come up very often. Instead, most trip-and-fall cases require further investigation and putting pieces of a puzzle together. The trick is finding a way to argue that any reasonable owner would have known about the issue and dealt with it. How do you do that?
Prove duration. This is often used in slip and fall cases. For example: oil spills on a shop floor resulting in a slip-and-fall accident 30 seconds later. Even the most safety-minded owners can’t be everywhere and do everything to prevent accidents. However, if you change the timeline on that accident and say that you fell three hours later, the case is starting to look better. Make it three days later and it’s a lot easier to ask the question—why the heck wasn’t something wasn’t done about that oil? Wouldn’t a reasonable person have taken care of it? In a trip and fall, proving duration is often easier because they will more often involve defects that, by definition, take a long time to develop. Buckling wood, heigh-disparities on the ground, rebar sticking out of the ground, all happen over time. However, there are certainly some trip and fall conditions that could have been put in place shortly before the trip and fall injury – such as a store’s product on the floor.
Demand inspection proof. One of the defenses that property owners frequently pull out in defense against trip-and-fall claims is that their employees regularly conduct inspections to make sure that the property is in good condition. If this occurs in your case, the first thing that your trip and fall lawyer should do is ask to see their inspection log and do whatever they can to verify that the logs are accurate. Sometimes you’ll discover one or multiple inspections were missed, the logbook was completed after the incident, or the log book was otherwise doctored.
Check legitimacy. If you tripped over a specific item and hurt yourself, such as an extension cord in the middle of a walkway, one of the most important questions that your attorney can ask is whether or not that item actually needed to be there. Was it being used for a specific purpose? Was it still in use, or had it been left out? Was there another, safer place that it could have been moved to?
Look at safety considerations. If there’s construction debris on a walkway, was there a Warning sign? If there’s debris or some other problem that could cause people to trip and fall, did employees put some kind of barrier up? Was it dark when you fell because of insufficient lighting? These are all things that can point to the fact that the property owner should have done a better job at ensuring your safety.
The best situation, obviously, is to avoid the trip and fall injury in the first place! But if that is not possible, and you have experienced a trip-and-fall injury, contact our knowledgeable Miami-Dade / Broward personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation (we also have a Central Florida office and handle any trip and fall injury case in all of South or Central Florida). During the complementary initial consultation, we can discuss the specifics of your situation and determine whether you have a strong case against a property owner. Call 305-931-6666 | 954.523.8292 | 800.379.TEAM.