Edwards v. Hy-Vee, Inc. – Prevailing in Slip-and-Fall Injury Claim Requires Constructive Knowledge of Hazard

Every state varies in its requirements for success in slip-and-fall cases. 

Slip-and-fall lawsuits are a type of premises liability claim that stems from the assertion that a business failed to keep its customers safe by addressing hazardous conditions on the ground about which they knew or should have known and in failing to warn about that risk.

A requirement is that the company had either actual or constructive knowledge of it. Actual knowledge could be created in one of two ways: The company created that particular hazard or else someone informed them of it. Constructive knowledge, meanwhile, holds that a company should have known about the floor hazard because it had existed for such a period of time that it was discoverable in the course of reasonable care or else it was part of the company’s mode of operation.

In Florida, F.S. 768.0755 sets for the the requirements specifically for premises liability claims stemming from transitory foreign substances in a business establishment. This is the statute that says plaintiffs have to prove either actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous substance on the floor. 

The recent case of Edwards v. Hy-Vee, Inc. was the result of a slip-and-fall accident in Nebraska, which does have some slightly different language in its slip-and-fall statute, but nonetheless does still require a defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of a perilous substance on the floor.

According to Nebraska Supreme Court records, plaintiff fell as she was leaving the grocery store operated by defendant. She alleged the store was negligent in a number of ways, including that the store knew or should have known the floor was wet and that the wet area was a potential danger to its customers. Defense moved for summary judgment.

At the summary judgment hearing, evidence was presented indicating plaintiff was leaving the store when she slipped on what appeared to be a piece of watermelon. After the fall, plaintiff’s daughter removed from the bottom of her mother’s shoe a watermelon seed.

About six feet away was a man who was handing out watermelon samples to customers. Plaintiff wasn’t sure how long the watermelon had existed on the floor before she fell on it.

District court granted summary judgment to defense, finding that simply giving out watermelon samples in a high-traffic area of the store wasn’t enough to support a claim that the store created a dangerous condition.

The judge also ruled there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the store had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that cased her to slip-and-fall.

Plaintiff appealed with a “novel approach,” which is why the state supreme court took on the appeal. She alleged that simply by virtue of the fact the store was handing out samples of juicy wet fruit to customers in an area that was high-traffic, it created this dangerous condition.

The court ruled against her in this instance because the reasonable inference from the fact the watermelon piece on which she slipped was six feet away from the store’s sample stand suggests it was a customer who dropped the watermelon – not an employee.

And there cannot be a reasonable inference that the store was to blame because a customer dropped the watermelon. Plaintiff contends the store is still not relieved of liability because this was a reasonably foreseeable result of handing out watermelon samples in this area.

However, the court rejected this assertion, finding that it would expand the definition of the term “created,” as used in the statute, beyond its plain and ordinary meaning.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in South Florida

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Additional Resources:

Edwards v. Hy-Vee, Inc. , July 22, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Bixenmann v. Dickinson Land Surveyors – Plaintiffs Needed Expert Witness to Prove Injury Lawsuit, Aug. 9, 2016, Boca Raton Slip-and-Fall Lawyer Blog