Premises liability is a legal theory under which the owner of a property may be held responsible for injuries caused by accidents occurring on the grounds. Whether it’s a slip and fall at a grocery store or an elevator crash in an office building, a property owner will generally be held liable for injuries that result from unsafe conditions of which the owner knew or should have known about at the time and about which the owner failed to properly warn visitors, such as workers, guests and customers. In order to successfully sue a property owner for damages based on premises liability, however, an injured party must show that the injury was actually caused by the property owner’s negligence.

In Friedrich v. Fetterman & Assocs., the Florida Supreme Court examines this “causation” requirement in the case of a man claiming he was injured when a chair in which he was sitting collapsed.

The injury occurred at a law office that Mr. Friedrich visited for a consultation after being injured in a car accident. According to the court, he was sitting in the firm’s conference room discussing the matter with an attorney when his chair collapsed. Falling backward, Friedrich hit his head and then the floor. He complained of worsening headaches after the incident, as well as neck and back pain, numbness and problems sleeping. After two years of medical treatment, he underwent spinal fusion surgery which he said alleviated most of the symptoms.

Friedrich later sued the firm for negligence, alleging that it wrongly failed to warn him that the chair was in dangerous condition. At trial, evidence showed that the chair had been used for about five years without incident and that no one at the firm performed any inspection of the chair during that time. Experts testified that it had a defect that wasn’t visible or otherwise readily noticeable, but one said that the defect could have been found by physical “flex” testing. A jury eventually returned a verdict for Friedrich and the firm was ordered to pay him what the Supreme Court called “as substantial amount.”

An appellate court set the verdict aside on appeal, however, finding that the evidence didn’t sufficiently show that negligence by the firm “probably caused” Friedrich’s injury. It was unclear, according to the appeals court, how soon before the accident the chair would have had to have been tested in order to find the defect. While an expert testified that he flex tested chairs every six months, the appeals court said there was no reason to believe that a test six months prior to the accident would have prevented the accident.

Reversing the appeals court decision, the state’s highest court said the appeals judges exceeded their authority by re-weighing the causation evidence that had been presented at trial, which the Court further said was sufficient for the jury to reach the verdict for Friedrich. “Here, the jury was presented with conflicting testimony as to whether the negligence probably caused the injury and whether the injury would not have occurred but for the negligence,” the court noted. “Evidence was presented that could serve as a basis to support a finding that the defendant’s negligence caused the injury, i.e., Friedrich’s expert testified that a hands-on inspection should have revealed the defect.”

If you were recently injured in an accident at a place of business and are interested in pursuing a claim against the property owner of the premises where you were injured, call the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine today. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Boca Raton, Coral Springs and Pompano Beach. Call the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or fill out an on-line “Contact Us” form.

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Duty of Care in Florida Slip and Fall Cases – Sammon v. Target