Appellate Court Clarifies Summary Judgment Standard in Slip and Fall Cases
In Blanca Lago v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2599, Case No. 3D16-1899 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017) the appellate court held: (1) there is no rule or decision that requires a trial court judge to specify his reasons for granting or denying a motion for summary judgment, and (2) summary judgment in favor of the defendant is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute of material fact about the defendant’s knowledge of a liquid substance on its floor.
On March 7, 2015, Blanca Lago accompanied her neighbor to a Costco located in Miami. Upon walking towards the entrance, Lago felt her right leg go out from under her and she fell on her left knee. A Costco employee helped Lago up from the floor and waited with her until an ambulance arrived.
Lago filed a lawsuit against Costco alleging that she fell on a slippery liquid substance, and Costco, as a business owner, owed her a duty to make sure the floor was clear of any hazards. Costco moved for summary judgment because there was no genuine issue of material fact that it had actual or constructive knowledge of the slippery liquid substance. The trial court granted Costco’s motion and this appeal ensued.
In the appeal, Lago contends that the trial court erred because (1) it entered an unelaborated order and (2) the facts did not warrant granting the summary judgment. The appellate court found neither of Lago’s contentions persuasive. The Court, citing Newman v. Shore, 206 So.2d 279, 280 (Fla 3d DCA 1968), denied Lago’s first contention because “[w]hile it might be desirable for the trial judge to specify his reasons for granting or denying summary judgment there does not appear to be any rule or decision that requires him to do so.”
In denying Lago’s second contention, the Court paid particular attention to the statutorily constrained burden of proof present in “transitory substance cases.” Section 768.0755, Florida Statutes, shifts the burden onto the Plaintiff to prove that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. In the absence of actual knowledge, it is incumbent upon the plaintiff to prove with circumstantial evidence that the business in the exercise of ordinary caution, should have known of the condition. Lago proffered evidence that she did not know what the liquid was nor did she see the liquid before she fell. Ultimately, the Court held that without additional facts suggesting the liquid was there for a long period of time or that this happened regularly, there is no genuine dispute of material fact about defendant’s knowledge of a liquid substance on its floor. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant.