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Florida Premises Liability Case Comes Down to Rule of Law

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Ocala, FLA Florida premises liability lawsuit that stemmed from a slip and fall incident in 2011 came down to the weight of the evidence, together with the legal definition of the plaintiff as a visitor to the premises – an issue that had a bearing on the unsuccessful bid to have the finding of a lower court stayed, and a petition for a new trial denied.

According to Court documents plaintiff Karen Seaberg had attended a location of Steak N’ Shake (SNS), a restaurant in Ocala, Florida which is part of a national chain with headquarters in Indiana. Court heard that on December 8, 2011 Seaberg had attended the Ocala location to pick up her daughter, an employee of the restaurant. While waiting for her daughter to finish work, Seaberg waited on a bench at the front of the facility while consuming a beverage purchased for her by Seaberg’s daughter.

While she waited, Court heard that two different spills occurred, both involving a soufflé cup. Seaberg was witness to one of the spills, involving mayonnaise. Seaberg had observed that the employee noticed she had dropped the cup, immediately turned behind her to retrieve the cup and cleaned the spilled product from the floor.

However, unbeknownst to the plaintiff a second spill had occurred shortly after the first spill – also involving a soufflé cup but this time not witnessed by the plaintiff. Upon leaving the Florida premises, Seaberg encountered the spill, slipped and fell. In her subsequent premises liability Florida lawsuit, she alleged injuries to her wrist and knee that required medical attention, and she sued for damages.

Following a three-day trial, a Florida district court jury found for the plaintiff, denying the defendant’s request for motion to dismiss and subsequent petition for a new trial. SNS appealed. At the heart of the defendant’s motion for dismissal was the defendant’s challenge of a determination of the plaintiff’s legal status as a rule of law.

The appellate panel held that under Florida common law, visitors upon the private property of others fall within one, of three classifications: trespassers, licensees or invitees. Licensees, for purpose of legal definition, enter a property for their own convenience – while invitees enter for purposes connected with the business.

SNS held that Seaberg was an uninvited licensee, and as such was owed a lesser duty of care. The appellate panel, however, determined that Florida law no longer recognizes uninvited licensees. But regardless, even if the latter was still duly recognized, the Court determined that the evidence bears out that Seaberg was, in fact a business invitee and thus entitled to a higher duty of care.

Further, a new trial was not required in the Florida premises liability case because the plaintiff had met her evidentiary burden. Seaberg was viewed as a business invitee by virtue of her consumption of a beverage vended by the facility. The fact the plaintiff’s daughter made the purchase on her mother’s behalf was not seen to be relevant.

The Court further opined that video evidence and testimony established that two spills did, indeed occur, that at least one employee had actual knowledge about a spill, and that these kinds of spills occurred with such regularity that SNS would have been on constructive notice.

The plaintiff’s appeal was facilitated by her Florida slip and fall lawyer. The case is Karen Seaberg v. Steak n' Shake Operations, INC., Case No. 5:13-cv-00634-WTH-PRL, in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

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