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Directed Verdict Entered For Premises Owner In A Transitory Foreign Substance Case

The First District Court of appeal reversed a million-dollar slip fall verdict in favor of the Plaintiff finding that Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence of a foreign substance consistent with the transitory foreign substance statute. See, Fla. Stat. § 768.0755(1)

Trial Court Activity & Facts

Plaintiff fell in front of the nurses’ station fracturing her kneecap.  Plaintiff alleged the floor was set. moved for a directed verdict.  At trial the Defendant hospital moved for a directed verdict arguing that Plaintiff had failed to present sufficient evidence of a wet floor, or that the Medical Center knew of such a substance on the floor for the case to go to the jury.  The trial court denied the motion, and the jury awarded a million dollar plus verdict for past and future damages.  The Defendant appealed.

Appellate Review & Analysis of the Record

The Frist DCA noted that premises liability matters governed by the transitory foreign substance statute require Plaintiff to prove either actual or constructive knowledge.  Plaintiff did not appear to present direct evidence of notice, and thus the case turned on constructive knowledge prong, which involved circumstantial evidence.

Plaintiff “felt like something wet was there, but she did not see a wet substance on the floor before or after her fall.”  Indeed, no one saw the wet substance that Plaintiff alleged caused her to fall.  Plaintiff testified that the back of her clothes were wet, but she was know what caused the wetness.

Plaintiff relied on video evidence from a fourth-floor, Medical Center camera showing moment-by-moment action in the hallway where she fell. The video does not show a substance on the floor. The video demonstrated, however, employees moving trash bags, linen bags, and trays into the utility room next to where Plaintiff fell. And there was also a housekeeping cart that was wheeled over the spot that Plaintiff fell.  Plaintiff asserted that a spill could have rusted from a leaking bag that was dragged to the utility room, from a spilled tray, or from something dropping onto the floor from the housekeeping cart despite the video not showing any such leaks.

Stacking of Inferences

The appellate court found “Plaintiffs may not stack inferences upon a debatable inference drawn from circumstantial evidence.”   Plaintiff could not rely upon circumstantial evidence to establish a fact unless it was to “exclusion of all other reasonable inferences,’ and thus, Plaintiff could not further stack additional “inferences upon it to establish causation.”

The DCA noted that this was not an instance where the main inference underlying the Plaintiff’s case, i.e., Plaintiff slipped on wet spot caused by the Defendant, could be established to the exclusion of other reasonable inferences. Indeed, it is just as plausible and reasonable to infer that no liquid was on the floor and that the wetness Plaintiff perceived came from her own flip-flops or clothes after walking into the hospital out of a rainstorm.  Additional inferences were likewise improperly to stack because each arose in mere speculation such as the bags had liquid or even leaked at all.

Thus, the trial court was revered and directed verdict entered in favor of the Defendant.

A link to the opinion may be found here: https://www.1dca.org/content/download/745803/opinion/192437_DC13_060


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