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Florida First DCA rules that slip and fall plaintiff’s amended complaint was not barred by statute of limitations; relation back doctrine applied because defendant had notice of plaintiff’s claims

On October 1, 2019, in Mitchell v. Applebee’s Services, Inc., No. 1D18-2555, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court ruling dismissing a slip and fall plaintiff’s amended complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The plaintiff’s original complaint, which was filed within the applicable four-year statute of limitations period, was filed against both the company which had owned the restaurant where the fall took place at the time of the fall and a successor company that had subsequently acquired the company’s assets and liabilities. However, the body of the complaint included only a single count against original corporate owner of the restaurant. After the successor corporate owner moved to dismiss the complaint against it for failure to state a cause of action, the trial court permitted the plaintiff to amend her complaint and add an additional count, but thereafter changed its position and granted the dismissal of the amended complaint on statute of limitations grounds, concluding that there “was nothing for the amended complaint to relate back to.” The First DCA quoted from its previous decision in HSBC Bank USA, Nat’l Ass’n v. Karzen, 157 So. 3d 1089, 1091 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015): “[t]he key inquiry to determine whether an amendment relates back or is barred by the statute of limitations is whether the party in question had notice of the litigation during the limitations period under the original pleadings and the amendment merely adjusts the status of an existing party, or the amendment actually introduces a new defendant.” The First DCA concluded that the defendant’s participation in the lawsuit from its inception belied any claim that it had no notice of the original action, was surprised by the amended complaint, was not given fair notice of the general factual scenario, or had no connection to the litigation prior to the amendment.