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Third DCA rules that defendant was not on constructive notice of soup spill causing slip and fall at bank building

On January 25, 2017, in Wilson-Greene v. City of Miami, No. 3D14-3094, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a circuit court order granting summary judgment in favor a building owner and maintenance company in a slip-and-fall accident case. The plaintiff had slipped in a lobby area on soup that had been spilled by an unknown third party at some time prior to the fall. The defendant maintenance company successfully moved for summary judgment on the ground that it did not owe the plaintiff a legal duty to constantly patrol and supervise the area where the incident occurred and that even if it did owe a duty to the plaintiff, it had no actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.

Based on the language of the maintenance company's contract with the City, the 3rd DCA ruled that the maintenance company did not have a contractual duty to "constantly" patrol and supervise the lobby area and that there was insufficient evidence that the company was on constructive notice of the dangerous condition. In connection with the latter issue, the 3rd DCA ruled that any determination that the soup spill existed for long enough to create constructive notice would require "an impermissible stacking of inferences." The 3rd DCA cited 4th DCA precedent for the proposition that if a party relies on circumstantial evidence to prove his or her case, a second inference may only be drawn from a first inference if the first inference was established to the exclusion of all other reasonable inferences. The plaintiff had argued that since the the soup was cool at the time of the fall, the spill must have had occurred long enough prior to the fall that the soup had time to cool. The 3rd DCA ruled that the first inference, that the soup had been hot at the time of the spill, had not been proven to the exclusion of other reasonable inferences. The 3rd DCA distinguished this situation from cases involving frozen substances that have thawed and created water hazards on the basis that such cases only required one inference -- that the water was on the floor because the frozen item had thawed.

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