A new ruling from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal tackles the sticky issue of whether a business is liable for personal injuries caused to a customer at the place of business by a dangerous condition that the business did not previously know about. The short answer: “it depends.”
Fetterman and Associates, PA v. Friedrich concerns a lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Robert Friedrich against Fetterman and Associates, PA (Fetterman), claiming that Defendant negligently failed to warn him of a defective chair located in Fetterman’s office. Plaintiff was injured in 2003 when the chair in which he was sitting in Defendant’s office collapsed.
Both parties presented an expert witness at trial, each of which testified that a defective joint caused the chair to collapse. Plaintiff’s expert indicated that a “flex test” inspection – flexing the joint by pulling on the chair leg – should have revealed the weak joint. However, because it was impossible to determine when the joint began to weaken, the expert conceded that any particular flex test may not have revealed the defect.
The trial court denied Defendant’s motions for directed verdict. The jury found Defendant partially liable for Plaintiff’s injury. The court denied Defendant’s motion to set aside the jury verdict.
On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion for directed verdict. The court noted that a business owner has a duty to determine that its premises are reasonably safe for invitees – such as Plaintiff – and is required to use reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions on its premises. Nevertheless, in order for an invitee to recover on an action for negligence related to an unknown dangerous condition on the business’ premises, the invitee must establish that “the dangerous condition existed a length of time prior to the injury in excess of a reasonable period between inspections.”
In this case, Defendant did not know that the chair was defective prior to its collapse. While Plaintiff’s expert testified that a “flex test” should have revealed the defective joint, he could not pinpoint how long before the collapse the test would have shown the defect. As a result, even if the jury concluded that Defendant was required to inspect its chairs at regular intervals, it could not further conclude that Defendant would necessarily have discovered the defect in the chair through testing because it is unclear how long before the accident flex-testing would have revealed the defect. The court remanded the matter back to the trial court for judgment in Defendant’s favor.
The legal term “negligence” is the most common theory of recovery for persons injured in any type of accident, including car accidents, aviation accidents, motorcycle accidents and incidents of medical malpractice. The South Florida accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have vast experience bringing negligence claims on behalf of clients injured in a variety of different situations. If you were injured in an accident due to another person’s negligent behavior, call the Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine for a free consultation. Our lawyers can speak with you about whether you might be entitled to compensation for your injury. You can reach our Florida offices at 800-747-3733 or submit an on-line form to contact us today.
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