• Summary judgment affirmed when there was no evidence that hospital or its cleaning company had actual or constructive knowledge of dangerous condition.
  • April 27, 2017 | Author: Samuel C. Higginbottom
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Tampa Office
  • The Florida Third District Court of Appeals affirmed the entry of summary judgment by the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County in favor of a hospital and its housekeeping contractor. The plaintiff alleged she slipped and fell on a slippery foreign substance on the floor left by EMS personnel cleaning a stretcher. There was no issue as to the defendants’ denial of actual knowledge. In appealing the trial court decision, the plaintiff alleged there was a genuine issue of material fact as whether the hospital and its housekeeping should have known of the dangerous condition.

    In affirming the trial court’s decision as to the hospital, the Appellate Court reiterated that Fla. Stat. 768.0755 requires that, in the absence of actual knowledge on the part of the defendant of the existence of a foreign substance, the plaintiff must come forward with circumstantial evidence that the defendant in the exercise of ordinary caution should have known of the condition. The court noted that the plaintiff testified that the foreign substance resulted from EMS personnel cleaning a stretcher in the hallway and that the substance on the floor was “oily,” “dirty” and “dark.” The plaintiff admitted she did not know how long the substance had been on the floor. The Appellate Court noted that testimony that a foreign substance on the floor was “oily,” “dirty” and “dark” is insufficient on its own to create an issue of material fact. This testimony must be accompanied by additional facts from which a jury can reasonably conclude that the substance in its original condition was not “oily,” “dirty,” and “dark” and had been on the floor for a sufficient period of time to have become discolored.

    In affirming the decision as to the hospital’s housekeeping contractor, the Appellate Court noted the contractor’s liability could turn on its contractually assumed obligations. In reviewing the cleaning contract, the court noted that the housekeeping contract did not place a heightened standard of care on the housekeeping contractor.

    As a general practice tip, when assessing circumstantial evidence as to whether a defendant should have known of a foreign substance, one must evaluate if the evidence supports an inference that the foreign substance was on the floor for such a period of time to have been modified from its original condition. Further, a cleaning contract that contains language that may be interpreted as requiring the contractor to have assumed a heightened standard of care in cleaning a facility may owe that same heightened standard of care to potential claimants.