When Marisol Santos slipped and fell on some old spinach at a Miami Publix store, her lawyers sued Publix under Florida’s transitory substance law. Transitory substances are things that cause one to slip, trip or fall because they are on the floor, but are not supposed to be there-such as oil, water, garbage, packaging, or food.

Florida’s Transitory Substance Law

This law makes businesses responsible for the injuries of customers who slip, trip or fall on their floors. If you have had a slip, trip or fall at a Publix store in Florida we offer free legal consultations – call 866-597-4529 or email me, Spencer Aronfeld.

Section 768.0755 of the Florida Statutes states that “[i]f a person slips and falls on a transitory substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove one of the following:

  1. The business knew about the thing on the floor, or
  2. The business should have known about it and should have taken some action to clean it.”

The statute, however does not affect any common law obligations that grocery stores like Publix or Winn-Dixie have in terms of operating their businesses safely. Previous versions of the law focused on “the person or entity” that control a business’s premises. In contrast, the latest version of Florida’s slip and fall law, enacted in 2010, changed the words “person or entity” to “business establishment.”  Now, under the new version of the law, an injured person must prove that the “business establishment” had either actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition and limits discovery (depositions, interrogatories, request for admissions) to that particular establishment.

Miami Women Sues Publix for Slip and Fall Case

In Ms. Santos’ case, her lawyers attempted to obtain information regarding similar slip and falls at not just the location where her accident occurred, but all Publix stores, statewide. This is a strategy that I have both used and encouraged for years when trying to hold retailers legally responsible for slip, trip and fall accidents that occur on their premises.

My theory is that stores like Publix, Wal-Mart, Target, Winn Dixie, Starbucks and McDonalds all operate their individual facilities under the same basic policies and procedures concerning inspection, maintenance and repair. In other words, a Publix in Orlando should share the same policies and protocols as a Publix in Coral Gables.

What happened in this case is quite typical when Ms. Santos asked Publix to produce evidence of any similar slip and fall that occurred at the store in question, the response was none. She then widened her request by asking Publix to produce all incident reports for all stores where someone claimed to have fallen on a transitory substance.

Incident Reports Limited to Store in Question, Not All Locations

The trial judge, Sarah I. Zabel agreed with Ms. Santos and ordered Publix to turn over all incident reports for all Publix stores in the State of Florida.  Publix appealed to the Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. Once again, the 3rd came to the rescue of big business and reversed Judge Zabel’s order, stating that the term “business establishment” which is not defined in the statute itself, should be interpreted to only mean the store where the incident actually occurred.

I respectfully disagree, if there is an injury that allegedly occurs due to a company-wide operating problem, limiting the discovery discourages uncovering the truth. For example, at the particular store that Ms. Santos fell, there is no evidence of a similar fall in the last 3 years but at there were 400 other people who claimed to have fallen on transitory substances at a Publix somewhere else in the State of Florida, it would indicate that Publix has a safety problem with the manner in which they are operating their locations.

I am very disappointed with this ruling as it makes it far more difficult for lawyers who sue Publix to successfully prove a slip and fall case.  In short, this case will make it easier for stores like Publix to evade and avoid accountability for customer injuries.

Our Publix accident lawyers are experienced in representing people who have been injured at grocery and retail stores across Florida, including Tampa, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Daytona, West Palm Beach, Naples, Broward, Homestead, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. Please contact our office today for a free legal consultation by calling 866-597-4529 or by emailing me, Spencer Aronfeld.