If you slip on some soup, can you sue City Hall and win? Apparently not, as Harriette Wilson-Greene learned after suing the City of Miami and Vista, the building’s maintenance company, after she slipped and fell in a building owned and operated by the City of Miami.1 Her case was handled by another Miami personal injury law firm, and according to court records, Ms. Wilson-Greene testified that she had been to the City’s Miami Riverside Building several times before, when on the fateful day of her fall, she took an elevator from the lobby to the second floor. She testified that she did not see any substance on the floor during any of her previous visits. After spending “longer than 15 minutes” on the second floor conducting her business, she returned to the lobby, using an elevator in the same elevator bank.[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/SxUz-eLeGNE” align=”center”]
After taking just a couple of steps out of the elevator, Ms. Wilson-Greene slipped and fell backwards, hitting her head and losing consciousness. When she regained consciousness, she noticed a green substance all over her feet, in her sandals, between her legs, and on parts of her upper body. According to the City’s incident report, the substance was “soup that was on the floor in the hallway of the elevators.” Ms. Wilson-Greene said the manager of the building’s security company told her the substance was green pea soup.2
Both the City and Vista moved for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the entire case on the grounds that they did not owe Wilson-Greene a legal duty to “constantly patrol and supervise the area where the incident occurred” and alternatively, that neither of them had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition (the spilled soup). Of course, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of both Vista and the City. Ms. Wilson-Greene appealed, and Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s dismissal of her case.3 Here’s what happened:
FLORIDA SLIP AND FALL LAW–Transitory Foreign Substance Cases
“Transitory Foreign Substance Cases” is a fancy term for slip and fall cases that involve spilled liquid or food on the floors of grocery stores, shopping malls, or cruise ship decks. The key to winning them is for the plaintiff to prove that the “substance” was on the floor long enough before the fall that the defendant knew or should have known about it.
Under Florida law, property owners have to maintain their premises in a “reasonably safe condition” and warn people of dangerous conditions that are known or should be known to the owner, but not the visitor. Florida slip and fall law is similar to the slip and fall law that applies to passengers suing cruise lines; in order for a plaintiff to recover for injuries, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant responsible for the premises either knew (actual notice) or should have known (constructive notice) of the dangerous condition. Constructive notice can be proved by presenting evidence that the dangerous condition existed long enough that the defendant should have known about it, or by showing that the dangerous condition occurred so often that it should have been foreseeable.
In this case, the trial court found that there was no actual notice, since no one saw the spilled soup on the floor and no one seemed to know how it got there. Summary judgments are not supposed to be entered by judges against people who get hurt slipping and falling if there is a material issue of fact that should allow the case to go forward to a jury.
In transitory foreign substance cases, courts should consider the length of time the condition (in this instance, spilled pea soup) existed before the accident occurred.4 I do not know why there was no CCTV footage of the incident. To rule for the plaintiff in this case, the court would have to infer that because the soup was not on the floor when she went up the elevator, and was cold when she felt it after falling in it, it must have been on the floor for a long enough period of time that either the City or its maintenance company should have known about it. The court found this to be an impermissible stacking of inferences, which meant that the mere presence on the floor of soup that is “not hot” is not enough to establish constructive notice.
Apparently cold pea soup is different from melting peas. In a similar case, where a lady slipped on frozen peas on the floor of a grocery store, the court found that it is permissible to assume frozen peas melt. Here, however, since there was no evidence that the soup had been hot and then cooled, the court felt that was a leap too far for the plaintiff to make.
FREE CONSULTATION WITH A SLIP AND FALL LAWYER
Slip and fall cases in Florida are not easy to win and require assembling the right facts and engaging a lawyer with experience and knowledge of Florida premises law. If you have been injured at a Publix, Target, or other store, coffee shop, restaurant, shopping mall, or theme park, call our office today and speak with an experienced Miami slip and fall attorney.
Our lawyers are available 24/7 to speak with you or meet you at your hospital or home. Call us today at 1-866-597-4529 or 305-441-0440, or reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, SKYPE, or FaceTime. We are ready to help you obtain fair and reasonable money as compensation for your injury. You may be entitled to receive money for medical expense reimbursement, lost wages, transportation costs, and your pain and suffering. Call us today–we are ready to help.
|↑1||Vista Maintenance Services, Inc., had the maintenance contract for the building at the time of the accident.|
|↑2||Although there is a restaurant in the lobby of the building, there is no evidence in the record that the restaurant was serving pea soup that day.|
|↑3||HARRIETTE WILSON-GREENE, Appellant, vs. THE CITY OF MIAMI, et al., Appellees. 3rd District. Case No. 3D14-3094. L.T. Case No. 11-32791. Opinion filed January 25, 2017.|
|↑4||Dominguez v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 187 So. 3d 892, 894 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).|