Bates-Bridgmon v. Heong’s Market – Slip-and-Fall Verdict Affirmed

It’s an erroneous assumption that one who suffers a slip-and-fall injury in a store, restaurant or some other business will automatically be entitled to some type of payout. Slip-and-fall injury claims in Florida are often met with skepticism, and they can proving liability can be more complex than the initial facts might suggest. That’s why it’s so imperative to first consult with an experienced injury lawyer.oil

Here in Florida, the slip-and-fall statute became even more stringent in 2005, when legislators enacted F.S. 768.0755, which holds that if a person wants to sue a business after a slip-and-fall on a transitory foreign substance, then the injured person has to first show the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken some action to address it. Actual knowledge would mean someone notified a staffer of a spill or slippery condition. Constructive knowledge, meanwhile, would mean the condition existed for long enough that the business should have discovered it in the course of exercising ordinary care, or else the condition occurred so often that it was foreseeable. These guidelines are fairly strict, and that means to prevail in court, you need a legal advocate who is detail-oriented and meticulous.

In the recent case of Bates-Bridgmon v. Heong’s Market, Inc., the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the trial court didn’t err in not instructing jurors on the “mode of operation” theory in the slip-and-fall case. Although the laws for premises liability vary to some degree from state-to-state, the general principles here are the same. Florida does follow the mode of operation law, which holds a store owner fails to use reasonable care if they fail to take action against a reasonably foreseeable condition that is made likely by defendant’s mode of operation and the owner’s failure to take adequate steps to prevent it. 

So for example, if I have a self-serve ice cream store, I can expect that some customers may be careless in dripping some ice cream or condiments onto the floor. This could create a dangerous condition for other unsuspecting customers. That means I need to regularly check the floors in my establishment to look for slippery messes.

In the Bates-Bridgmon case, plaintiff suffered a fall on defendant’s property in March 2009. She entered the grocery store, which she frequented, to purchase meat. However, as she turned a corner, she slipped on what she later discovered was cucumber and oil that had spilled from a nearby salad bar. She called for help after the fall, but no one came to assist her. She crawled to the prepared foods department and pulled herself up. It was at that point she was able to get help from a store manager, whom she informed of the fall. However, she was told there was no one at the time to help her complete an incident report.

Plaintiff reportedly suffered immediate pain in her back, arm, knee, ankle and foot. She couldn’t sleep that night and went to the emergency room the next day. X-rays revealed no fractures, but there were soft tissue injuries. It was later discovered she had a bulging and degenerative discs and numerous tears in her knee muscles. Although she was on disability prior to the incident due to a chronic health condition, she described this pain as different.

She filed a personal injury lawsuit less than three years later, alleging defendant was negligent for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.

A manager testified there were not mats put around the salad bar because there was concern customers may trip on those and that, to her knowledge, there had never been previous spills associated with the salad bar.

At the close of trial, defense argued that while it was not in dispute that plaintiff fell on oil and cucumber, there was no evidence of actual or constructive notice to the store or any employee, meaning there was not a reasonable opportunity to clean it up before plaintiff fell.

Plaintiff, meanwhile, compared the salad bar to a leaky drainpipe, arguing it is a constant danger.

The court presented jurors with instructions regarding defendant’s duty to exercise reasonable care to keep the site in reasonably safe condition for food and grocery shopping, taking into account the nature of conditions. However, there was no specific instruction on the mode of operation theory of negligence.

Jurors decided the case in favor of defendant, finding plaintiff had failed to prove defendant was negligent and that this negligence caused plaintiff’s injury.

Plaintiff appealed, but the state high court affirmed, finding plaintiffs never requested an instruction on the mode of operation, nor did they object when the trial judge failed to do so. This issue, therefore, was waived.

If you have been a victim of a slip-and-fall injury in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Bates-Bridgmon v. Heong’s Market, Inc., Jan. 24, 2017, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Acute Sleep Deprivation Ups the Risk of Miami Car Accident, Jan. 7, 2017, Slip-and-Fall Injury Lawyer Blog