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People who are injured in slip and fall accident cases in Florida often think that because the accident occurred at a public business–such as a shopping mall, supermarket, or gas station–the owners of these businesses and properties automatically have a legal responsibility to pay them money for their injuries. This is simply not true. Claimants in trip, slip, and fall cases must first prove that the business or property owner is legally responsible. Those property owners then have a variety of legal defenses at their disposal when and if they are sued.

These types of cases are known in the law as premise liability claims, and one the most powerful legal defenses utilized in these cases is called the “assumption of risk defense.”  Recently, a Florida appellate court reviewed the case of Thomas and Judy Petruzzella who sued the Church on the Rock of Palm Coast after Mr. Petruzzella tripped and fell at a church, rehearsing for a concert where he had volunteered to perform in church rock band. The accident occurred when he tripped and fell on the unsecured cord of the bass player’s guitar, sustaining serious personal injuries.   

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Mr. Petruzzella and his wife sued the Church on the Rock of Palm Coast, alleging that the church was negligent for failing to maintain the church stage in a reasonably safe condition, and that it had failed to correct a dangerous condition which the church either knew or should have known of by using reasonable care. His wife, Judy Petruzzella, sued the church, alleging a loss of consortium. The Church answered their complaint by denying the allegations of negligence and raising the affirmative defense of contributory negligence on the part of Mr. Petruzzella.

Mr. Petruzzella had been a member of the church since 2008, had performed on the Church’s stage, either in rehearsal or during a service, at least three to four times a week, and thus knew that various cords attached to the instruments were unsecured. The evidence in the case also showed that no person other than Mr. Petruzzella had ever been involved in any accident causing injury due to the unsecured cords.

The church moved for summary judgment, which is a legal maneuver that is typically raised in slip and fall cases when a defendant, in this case the church believes that there is no legal responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries and that the case should be dismissed by the judge rather than go to a full-blown jury trial. The church’s primary defense is called the open and obvious doctrine and is based upon the argument that Mr. Petruzzella knew of the alleged dangerous condition of the bass cord, willfully accepted the risk, and therefore was owed no legal duty to him by the church since his injuries were not caused by any flaw in the church facility, which had been used for years without any injuries.

The Petruzzellas responded to the Church’s motion, arguing that their case was not pled as a failure to warn case, but as a failure to maintain the church stage in a reasonably safe condition and that the “open and obvious danger doctrine” may discharge the church’s duty to warn but does not discharge the church’s duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

In its reply to the Petruzzellas’ response, the Church asserted a new argument for summary judgment–express assumption of the risk. Specifically, the church argued that Mr. Petruzzella was aware of the condition of the stage and either knew or should have known of the risk of tripping over unsecured cords, yet he repeatedly, “assumed the risk’ of performing on that stage over a two-year period up until and including the date of the accident. The trial court found that the Church was entitled to summary judgment based upon the express assumption of the risk.

The Petruzellas appealed, and this week Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal, in a rare but powerful move, reversed the trial court’s decision. The appellate court relied on several Florida opinions including Mazzeo v. City of Sebastian, where Florida’s Supreme Court specifically discussed the doctrine of assumption of risk and whether the doctrine should be expanded beyond contracts not to sue and injuries resulting from contact sports. The Supreme Court specifically found that the doctrine of express assumption of risk should not be expanded beyond express contracts not to sue and injuries resulting from contact sports. In these cases, the plaintiff’s conduct, such as Mr. Petruzzella’s, should be evaluated by a jury under the principles of comparative negligence. In other words, given that there is no express contract not to sue the church or any contact sport involved, in Mr. Petruzzella’s case, his conduct of repeatedly walking across the church’s stage with unsecured electrical cords must be evaluated by a jury under principles of comparative negligence.

This case is a huge victory for the Petruzellas and others who are injured in a trip and fall accident in florida on property across the State of Florida. While our firm does not represent this family, we wish them the very best and congratulate their attorneys in obtaining this important result.

Injured in a Slip, Trip, or Fall Accident in Florida

A trip and fall accident in Florida stores–like Publix, Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and other businesses–are complex personal injury cases that warrant being investigated and prosecuted by experienced slip and fall attorneys. Aronfeld Trial Lawyers has over 30 years of combined legal experience in the legal representation of those who have been injured on the property of other individuals and businesses across the state of Florida.

If you have suffered a trip and fall accident in Florida, call our office today and speak with an experienced Miami personal injury lawyer. We are ready to help you hold the property and business owner accountable for your lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.  Our lawyers are available to speak with you 24/7 by email at [email protected], or by telephone at 305-441-0440 or toll-free at 1-866-597-4529, SKYPE, or FaceTime.  Let our years of experience help you.  Call us today–we are ready to represent you.