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Miami-Dade County v. Jones

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

November 8, 2017

Miami-Dade County, Appellant,
v.
Wanda Jones, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 12-4944, Jacqueline Hogan Scola and Bronwyn C. Miller, Judges.

          Abigail Price-Williams, Miami-Dade County Attorney, and Altanese Phenelus, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

          Lawrence J. Bohannon, P.A., and Keith E. Hope (Fort Lauderdale), for appellee.

          Before ROTHENBERG, C.J., and SUAREZ and SALTER, JJ.

          ROTHENBERG, C.J.

         Miami-Dade County ("the County") appeals an adverse final judgment and an order denying the County's motion for a directed verdict, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and a new trial ("post-trial motion") entered after a jury verdict finding the County negligent for allowing a grease spill to remain on a County-owned sidewalk, which Wanda Jones ("Jones") alleged caused her to slip and fall. For the following reasons, we find that the trial court erred by denying the County's post-trial motion because Jones failed to introduce evidence from which the jury could infer that the County had notice of the dangerous condition that caused Jones to slip and fall. We also find that the trial court erred by permitting Jones to introduce irrelevant and prejudicial County ordinances.

         BACKGROUND

         Jones slipped and fell on a greasy sidewalk owned by the County while visiting a barbeque stand located on private property that was operated by V-II Sports Club, Inc. ("the Sports Club"). Jones contended that a faulty grease disposal system underneath the barbeque stand caused grease to spill out onto the sidewalk. Jones suffered injuries from her fall and sued the County and the Sports Club. In her operative complaint, Jones alleged that the Sports Club was responsible for creating the dangerous condition on the sidewalk, and she alleged that the County negligently maintained the sidewalk by allowing the dangerous condition to remain on the sidewalk.

         After a trial, the jury found the Sports Club 50% liable, the County 50% liable, and Jones 0% liable. Thereafter, the County filed its motion for a directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and a new trial. The County argued, in relevant part, that there was no evidence that the County had notice of the dangerous condition on the sidewalk and that the trial court erred by permitting Jones to introduce County ordinances and other irrelevant and prejudicial evidence in an attempt to prove that the County had notice. After the trial court denied the County's post-trial motions, the County appealed.

         ANALYSIS

         We review the trial court's denial of a motion for a directed verdict and a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict de novo. Marriott Int'l, Inc. v. Am. Bridge Bahamas, Ltd., 193 So.3d 902, 905 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015). The trial court's evidentiary rulings and denial of a motion for a new trial are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Weatherly v. Louis, 31 So.3d 803, 805 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009); Padilla v. Buell, 797 So.2d 609 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001).

         We begin with the general principle in premises liability cases that "[a]ll premises owners owe a duty to their invitees to exercise reasonable care to maintain their premises in a safe condition." Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So.2d 315, 320 (Fla. 2001). "In order for a plaintiff to recover for injuries received in a slip and fall, the plaintiff must show that the defendant responsible for the premises had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition." Wilson-Greene v. City of Miami, 208 So.3d 1271, 1274 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (quoting Maryland Maint. Serv., Inc. v. Palmieri, 559 So.2d 74, 76 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990)); see also Encarnacion v. Lifemark Hosps. of Fla., 211 So.3d 275, 278 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017). Constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition "may be inferred from either: (1) the amount of time a substance has been on the floor; or (2) the fact that the condition occurred with such frequency that the owner should have known of its existence." Delgado v. Laundromax, Inc., 65 So.3d 1087, 1090 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).

         In the instant case, Jones concedes that the County did not cause the grease to spill onto its sidewalk and that the County did not have actual knowledge of the grease on the sidewalk. We also find no evidence in the record indicating how long the grease was present on the sidewalk on the day that Jones fell. To the contrary, Jones testified at trial that she did not know how long the grease had been on the ground that day, but that it appeared "fresh." Thus, the County's appeal reduces down to a very specific question: whether Jones presented ...


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