Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is allowing a slip-and-fall lawsuit to move forward against a South Florida hospital, but it simultaneously undercut the ability for the plaintiff to make a strong argument for damages.
West Palm Beach injury attorneys recognize that slip-and-fall lawsuits have become tougher to win in Florida just over the last few years, with the passage of legislation in 2010 that requires plaintiffs to show not just that some foreign substance caused the fall, but that the defendant knew or should have known about that substance and failed to mitigate it or warn others about it.
In Denniser v. Columbia Hospital Corp., this standard is going to be more difficult to reach because the court affirmed the plaintiff’s standing as a “trespasser” at the time of the incident, which significantly lowers the legal duty the defendant owed to protect her.
This doesn’t mean the case is necessarily impossible to win, but it just got a lot tougher.
According to court records, the plaintiff was a frequent visitor to the hospital while her mother was admitted inpatient for a week-long stay. On one occasion, the daughter entered a kitchen area through an unlocked door to get some tea. Once inside this kitchen area, the plaintiff reportedly slipped on a patch of wet floor, causing her to sustain injury.
She said soon after the fall, an employee in scrubs entered the area and advised her to “be careful” because the floor was often wet.
Later, the plaintiff sued the hospital, saying that as an invitee to the hospital, the defendant had breached its duty of care by failing to warn her that the floor might be in a dangerous condition.
In response, the hospital’s risk manager submitted to the court an affidavit, testifying that the kitchen area in question is closed to the public, and is designated only for staff of the hospital. The risk manager noted a sign outside the door that labeled the area a “Pantry” and stated in bold letters, “STAFF ONLY.” Because the plaintiff was never given permission to enter the area, the risk manager asserted, she was not an invitee but rather a trespasser or uninvited licensee as soon as she entered the threshold of the kitchen.
On this basis, the hospital moved for summary judgment. It asserted that it would only have held a duty to warn the plaintiff of a concealed danger had she been discovered, and it was argued that no employee was in the kitchen area prior to her fall.
The court granted the hospital’s motion. The plaintiff appealed.
The appellate court reversed in part and affirmed in part, ultimately remanding the case for further consideration. Justices ruled that the plaintiff was either a trespasser or licensee because she had gone beyond the scope of her invitation (a decision supported by the 2007 ruling in Byers v. Radiant Grp., LLC). The trial court had been correct in this determination.
However, the court found that issues of material fact remained regarding whether the plaintiff was a discovered or undiscovered trespasser. The court indicated that in order to obtain a summary judgment, the hospital would need to prove she hadn’t been discovered by hospital prior the fall. The hospital never presented any evidence to support this assertion, and therefore, the summary judgment was reversed.
So unless the plaintiff can somehow prove that either the hospital knew of her presence before the fall or knew that other non-invitees entered the area with some regularity, her case isn’t likely to go far.
While such news may be disappointing, it’s important for clients to consult with an attorney who will be honest about the potential prospects of continuing to pursue a claim.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Denniser v. Columbia Hospital Corp., May 14, 2014, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals
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