Slip and Fall Case Questions Whether College is a Business

When a lawsuit is filed for injuries that stem from a slip and fall, there are certain things that a personal injury lawyer expects to be questioned. Was the defendant negligent? How severely is the client injured and how do we show those injuries to a jury? But every now and then a personal injury case involves a question that you just can’t anticipate.

banana peel (sandman kk)Fall Occurs on Broward College Campus

In a recent case, a victim slipped and fell on a substance in an elevator at Broward College (BC)(formerly Broward Community College). She sued BC for negligence, alleging that BC knew or in the exercise or ordinary and due care, should have known, of the existence of the substance.

Among the traditional and standard defenses that defendants in personal injury cases use, BC used a novel one. It argued that it was not a “business establishment,” and thus, because the Florida slip and fall statute applies to business establishments, it couldn’t be liable for the accident. Rather, BC argued that it was a state-owned institution of higher learning.

Court Looks at Definition of Business

To determine whether BC was liable, the court had to define the term business establishment. In the pure technical sense, it may appear that a state-run college is not a business establishment, in the way that Publix or the mall may be.

But the appellate court turned to the general rule that when interpreting language in statutes, it is the plain common sense meaning of language that is used, not hyper technical definitions. In that sense, the court noted that businesses accept money in return for providing goods or services, and BC provides a service.

The court also noted that the slip and fall statute had been applied to other businesses that are not traditional businesses, such as airports or postal facilities. Thus, BC is a business establishment that is liable under the slip and fall statute.

Case is Lost on Other Grounds

Despite winning that fight, the victim ultimately did not prevail, due to what appears to be a failure to gather appropriate facts. The victim apparently couldn’t state what liquid she fell on, how long it may have been there, whether BC had constructive knowledge it existed, how frequently or infrequently BC inspected the area, or that it was foreseeable that it would be there. The victim’s unsubstantiated belief that the substance may have been rainwater was not enough.

The court didn’t tell us what the victim’s attorneys may have done leading up to the hearing date, but it appears that there was not enough discovery to help fight BC’s motion to have the case dismissed.

Slip and fall cases require analyzing and being ready for every possible defense that may be asserted, including the ones that aren’t obvious. If you have been in an accident, talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.

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