Tampa Slip & Fall Lawyer
Dedicated premises liability attorneys on your side
Premises liability lawsuits are also known more colloquially as “slip and fall” cases. These personal injury claims arise from the presence of unsafe or defective conditions on someone else’s property. Like other personal injury cases, slip and fall lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence. In slip and fall cases, negligence typically means a property owner did not use reasonable care in keeping the property safe for others. Slip and fall claims have many requirements and exceptions. Therefore, this area of law can quickly become very complicated and require the help of an experienced Tampa slip and fall accident lawyer.
Elements of a Tampa slip and fall case
There are several elements an accident victim must establish to prevail in a slip and fall case. First, the property owner must have owed a duty of care to the injured party. It is also important to note that third parties may also be liable. For example, a business that occupies the property or someone who rents the property may also owe a duty of care. The injured party must establish the property owner breached the duty that was owed to the injured party. Next, the injured party must prove a hazard existed and that the hazard caused the injury. Finally, the injured party must establish that he or she was injured by the hazard.
Proving the elements of a premises liability case is not always a simple task. Therefore, Tampa accident victims should always consult a Tampa personal injury lawyer who has an established track record in winning slip and fall cases.
Establishing duty of care in Tampa premises liability cases
States apply a newer law that requires property owners to exercise reasonable ownership and care for all parties who enter the property. Other states like Florida still apply the old rule, which limits the property owner’s duty depending on the classification of the visitor. In Florida, visitors are classified into one of three categories:
Invitees in Florida slip and fall cases
An invitee has express permission from the landlord to enter the property. Friends, relatives, and neighbors who have a friendly relationship with the property owner are usually classified as invitees. Grocery store shoppers, repair technicians who come to do a job, and delivery people are also generally classified as invitees. This category of visitors receives an invitation from the business or property owner to come to the property. Landowners are usually legally obligated to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition for invitees.
Limited duty owed to licensees
Licensees may have either express or implied permission to enter the property. A licensee enters the property for his or her own purposes. The business or property owner does not directly invite the licensee to the property. However, the licensee is also not forbidden from visiting the property. Examples of licensees include:
- someone who enters a business to use the restroom but not to conduct business
- a salesperson who is soliciting business
- someone who stops at a business to get change without making a purchase
- an invitee who enters a part of the property that is beyond the original scope of the property owner’s invitation
Property owners owe a more limited duty to licensees. Instead of specifically keeping the premises reasonably safe for licensees, the property owner is only required to warn the licensee of conditions that may not be safe. He or she must also refrain from doing willful harm to the licensee.
Duty owed to trespassers
A trespasser enters the property without an invitation from the property owner, a license to enter the property, or any other right to access. Undiscovered trespassers are owed the least degree of duty by property owners. Generally, a property owner owes a duty to undiscovered trespassers to avoid causing willful and wanton injury. However, the duty changes once the property owner becomes aware of a trespasser’s presence. Discovered trespassers immediately become like licensees. Therefore, once a property owner or business discovers a trespasser, the trespasser is entitled to be warned about potentially unsafe conditions on the property.
Breach of duty
Proving the property owner owed the injured party a duty of care is only the beginning. Next, the injured party must prove the property owner breached the duty. Within the context of a slip and fall case, a breach of duty means the property owner failed to keep the property as safe as he or she should have based on the injured party’s classification as a visitor. In most slip and fall cases, the defendant is a business that occupies the property. For example, a grocery store may have breached its duty to keep invitees and licensees safe if the store is aware of a spill in the store, and management does not make an effort to clean up the spill or warn shoppers by setting up a caution sign.The store owes shoppers a duty to maintain reasonably safe shopping conditions by eliminating slipping hazards from the sales floor and restrooms within a reasonable amount of time. However, in the case of invitees, failure to set out a caution sign after learning about a spill or otherwise failing to warn visitors would likely constitute a breach.
The difference is as an invitee, a shopper may have a successful claim if a store is aware of a spill and takes too long to clean the spill up. An invitee may also prevail in a claim if the store is aware of a faulty piece of equipment that constantly leaks and creates spills and if the store fails to either fix the equipment or keep the floor clear of spills with frequent cleaning. As a licensee, an individual who visits a store to use the restroom is less likely to be able to prevail by arguing the store took too long to clean up a spill or remedy faulty equipment. However, the licensee’s claim is more likely to be successful if the licensee establishes that the store knew of the hazard and failed to warn the licensee.
Florida law does not require businesses to anticipate what the nature of a licensee’s visit will be and maintain the premises accordingly. However, invitees typically have a defined relationship with the business or property owner. Therefore, the law requires the property owner to maintain the safety of the premises based on the preestablished nature of the invitee’s visit.
In 2013, Florida’s legislature increased the burden of proof on plaintiffs in Florida slip and fall cases. The state added a rule that requires the injured party to not only establish that the property owner’s failure to maintain safe conditions was unreasonable. Plaintiffs must also prove the property owner either actively or constructively knew the condition on the property was dangerous and could pose a safety risk.
Common locations for premises liability cases
Slip and fall accidents most often happen in places of business. Nevertheless, they may also take place in private homes, at private swimming pools, and on privately-owned land. Examples of common premises liability accident sites are:
- restaurants and bars
- public roads and sidewalks
- public pools
- entertainment venues
- parking lots and garages
- amusement parks
- movie theaters
Common hazards in Tampa premises liability cases
At the center of a slip and fall case lies the hazardous condition. The injured party must establish a hazard existed on the property. Common examples of hazards in premises liability cases are:
- wet floors
- unsecured cables, cords, and wires
- clutter in walkways
- rain, snow, sleet or ice on an outdoor walkway
- inadequate lighting
- damaged handrails
- uneven flooring
- cracked sidewalks or cracked pavement
- debris on the floor or walkway
Establishing causation in slip and fall cases
Beyond proving a hazard existed, the injured party must also prove the hazard directly caused his or her injury. In most slip and fall cases, physical injury is usually the harm the injured party suffers. The results of a medical exam, doctor’s notes, and medical bills that are directly related to the accident are evidence of the injury. Documentation from the individual’s employer typically suffices as evidence of lost wages. Because medical evidence is usually critical to proving causation in slip and fall accidents, it is very important that accident victims see a medical professional immediately after a slip and fall accident has taken place.
Some slip and fall accident victims have preexisting medical conditions that may be aggravated by a slip and fall accident. This is more likely to be the case if the accident victim is elderly or was previously injured or disabled prior to the accident. The preexisting condition can have the effect of making the injury from the accident more severe. Therefore, the injured party may sustain more damage than a healthy, able-bodied person in a similar position. The injured party may require more intensive medical treatment, miss more time from work, and have a longer healing timeline. Someone who is partially disabled may experience an increase in disability.
To address premises liability cases in which the injured party had a pre-existing injury or disability, Florida courts utilize the “eggshell plaintiff rule.” The eggshell rule holds defendants responsible even if the plaintiff was more susceptible to becoming injured due to a preexisting condition. Florida’s requirement that plaintiffs prove the property owner should have foreseen the safety risk is in direct contradiction to the eggshell rule.
The eggshell rule holds the property owner responsible even though it is impossible for property owners to foresee the preexisting health issues of every individual who enters the property. A Tampa slip and fall accident lawyer has the training and experience to navigate the intricacies of Florida's premises liability laws.
Comparative negligence and premises liability
Further complicating Tampa slip and fall accident cases, Florida follows the pure comparative negligence rule in personal injury cases. In response to a slip and fall claim, the property owner may argue the injured party contributed to his or her injury. Ways in which a plaintiff may contribute to his or her injury include:
- wearing loose or unstable footwear
- running in an area that is unsafe for running
- improperly using handrails or other safety features
Because Florida follows the pure negligence rule, plaintiffs may still receive compensation if the court finds that they played a role in their own injury. If the court finds the plaintiff was partially at fault for his or her injury, the court will assign a percentage of fault to the plaintiff. For example, if the court determines the plaintiff was 10 percent at fault for not using the handrail when walking down dimly lit stairs, the plaintiff’s award will be reduced by a corresponding 10 percent.
Types of damages that can be pursued
The victim may also receive compensation for lost wages if he or she takes time off to go to medical appointments or to rest and heal. In some cases, an individual may sustain less visible injuries as a result of a slip and fall accident. If the visitor sustains severe, quality of life-altering injuries, he or she may be able to receive compensation for pain and suffering.
Contacting a Tampa slip and fall accident lawyer
Florida’s slip and fall laws are far too complex for the average layman to navigate alone. Therefore, it is imperative that accident victims contact a Tampa premises liability accident lawyer prior to engaging in conversation with the property owner or with his or her insurance company. An attorney can provide guidance to help the injured party receive the compensation he or she deserves based on the unique facts of his or her case.
Contact us for a free case evaluation.