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Misty and Dim, Slip and Fall
by Ron Davis
A woman injured at a Florida shopping center will get a second chance to prove that the center’s owners failed to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.
The shopping center is Interlachen Mall, located in northern Florida, and in her lawsuit claiming that the negligence of the center’s owners caused her injury, a Florida court concluded that they were not liable for the incident. On appeal, however, that ruling did not stand.
The injury that the woman suffered occurred in the center’s parking lot one evening after dark. Weather conditions at the time were apparently a contributing factor. A drizzling rain and mist made visibility difficult. After parking her car near the store she intended to visit, she got out and started walking toward her destination. She said that as she walked around a shopping cart return corral, she tripped and fell over a bumper placed on the ground at the corral opening. That bumper prevents carts from rolling out after shoppers push them in.
She added that the parking lot lighting at the time was “very poor” and such conditions made it difficult for her to spot any obstacles as she walked. She therefore claimed that the center’s owners failed to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition.
In response, the center’s owners contended that the bumper was an open and obvious part of the parking area and that they therefore were not liable for the woman’s injury. But the appellate court decided that a jury should determine whether the center’s owners were negligent or whether the woman had simply not used normal precautions before her trip-and-fall accident.
Explained the appellate court, “We believe that the dark and rainy conditions and the inadequate lighting may have prevented the injured woman from observing, with the use of her ordinary senses, any danger posed by the bumper. In other words, we think that under these facts and circumstances, a jury should decide whether the parking lot bumper was a dangerous condition that was open and obvious.” (Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 2005 WL 1923084 [Fla.App.5 Dist.])
Decision: August 2005
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