This week, a woman claiming she was seriously hurt from a trip and fall in a parking lot at a Miami business learned that taking her case to court and winning a million dollar jury verdict was just the beginning of her legal odyssey. While Ana Maria Santiago is not our client, her story is sadly typical.
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In 2008, she fell down at a warehouse she was renting in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. Two years later, her trip and fall lawyers sued Muana Loa Investments, serving a copy of the negligence complaint on the corporation’s Registered Agent. Her lawsuit claimed that she fell due to a poorly maintained, uneven concrete sidewalk.
According to the record, the Registered Agent gave a copy of Santiago’s personal injury complaint to an attorney who failed to file an answer with the Court. Santiago then obtained a default judgment against Muana for not responding to her complaint. Mauna then filed five separate motions attempting to set aside the default–all of which were denied. Mauana argued it did not even own the property where Santiago claimed to have been injured – the property was actually owned by Iberia, NV, LLC another corporation–and attached a warranty deed to prove it. Next, Santiago filed a lawsuit against Iberia seeking to have the cases consolidated into one trial.
Eventually, a Miami-Dade jury returned a verdict for Santiago for $1,077,390.48. Predictably, the defendant appealed the million dollar verdict to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.
Nearly five years after her fall, Florida’s Third District Court took away her verdict, dismissing her entire case. The Court based its decision on two legal facts: Mauna did not own the property in question; and the default entered by the trial judge was invalid. You can read the entire opinion here.
This represents a painful and expensive lesson for anyone claiming an injury from slipping and falling at a Florida hotel, restaurant, shopping mall or grocery store. Many people erroneously believe that simply getting a lawsuit filed is the beginning of a legal journey ending with a verdict. Instead, as in this particular case, a million dollar verdict was only just the beginning of this lady’s long and unsuccessful battle in Florida’s court system.
Ms. Santiago’s case is a rather typical trip and fall claim that a personal injury lawyer in South Florida investigates every single day. For instance most people who get hurt at a hotel on South Beach could not imagine that it would take nearly half a decade to resolve.
Time is not on the side of the injured. Especially those that are in need of medical care, reimbursement for time missed from work, and left disabled from the acts of careless property owners. Instead, property owners and the companies that insure them get away with patiently defending these types of cases knowing that even a simple case like this can take five years to end. When we advise our clients about the risks of trial, we also urge them to consider the time, risk and costs of an appeal.