Prevailing in a Florida slip-and-fall injury lawsuit is no simple task, which is why most injury attorneys will carefully review your claim before pursuing it – especially if they plan to take it to trial. A fair pre-trial settlement is typically the preferred outcome, as trials are expensive (and risky).
It’s important that you and your attorney consider any pre-trial settlement offers carefully, as declining a defense settlement offer in a case later favorably decided for the defense could result in an order for YOU to pay the defense’s attorney fees. (As injury lawyers, our fees are contingent on winning, meaning we’re only paid if you’re successful with your claim.)
This is not to say Florida slip-and-fall injury claims aren’t worth pursuing, but it is important to be aware of the potential pitfalls in these cases.
Recently in Georgia (which approaches slip-and-fall case from a similar angle as Florida), jurors considered the claim of a woman who fell at a jazz club and injured her back and hip, requiring extensive physical therapy.
According to The Daily Report at Law.com, plaintiff turned down a $100,000 settlement offer from the defense prior to trial. Now, because jurors decided the case in favor of the club, she may be on the hook for defense attorney fees between $75,000 to $100,000. Similarly in Florida, F.S. 768.79 states that if a plaintiff receives and reject a settlement offer and the the courts award a judgment that is 25 percent less than that amount (or the case is decided wholly in favor of the defense), the defense is entitled to collect attorney’s fees. This goes both ways.
This is an important consideration especially in slip-and-fall premises liability claims because they can be tough to prove.
Burden of Proof in Florida Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit
Property owners in Florida who invite the public on site for their own financial benefit owe the highest duty of care to guests. That means maintaining the site in a reasonably safe condition, regularly checking for potential hazards and warning guests when dangers are discovered that can’t be immediately rectified.
This does not, however, absolve guests from the responsibility of watching where they’re walking and essentially using common sense.
F.S. 768.0755 changed the rules when it came to Florida slip-and-fall lawsuits. Specifically where the claim is that there was some transient substance on the floor that caused injury, plaintiffs must show the business establishment knew or should have known about the danger (actual or constructive knowledge) and failed to address it. Constructive knowledge is established by producing evidence that this dangerous condition occurred with regularity or had existed for such a time that it should have been known to property owners.
If the claim does not involve a transient substance (a spilled drink, rainwater, oil, some other slip hazard) it will proceed like any other premises liability claim.
Jurors Find Jazz Club Danger Obvious, Plaintiff Told of It
In the recent jazz club premises liability lawsuit, Law.com reports plaintiff, 54, arrived that evening with a friend. The hostess requested another worker show the pair to their reserved high-top table. The worker pointed it out, but did not walk them there. Plaintiff pulled out a high-top chair and stepped backward as she did so, tripping over a step that was just behind her, suffering hip and knee pain. She later learned suffered a spinal disc bulge in her lower back.
She would later allege the light that was supposed to have illuminated that step for patrons was covered by a poster, and the lit candles on the table were insufficient. Further, she wasn’t the first person to fall down those steps (something that would significantly strengthen her case, as it goes to show constructive knowledge that this was a danger).
Defense attorneys, however, argued that the employee who showed them where the table was had cautioned them to mind the step. Further, evidence was presented that plaintiff had been to other similar night clubs before and was aware that lower lighting was often used. Further, defense testified the steps were open and obvious in a location that was noticeable and readily visible, even in spite of the low light.
Much of the testimony presented at trial came down to, “How dark was it?”
Further, the surgeon who treated plaintiff testified the operation wasn’t related to her fall.