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Caridad Miyiriam Dominguez v. Publix Super Market, Inc., Case No. 3D14-2212 (3rd DCA)

In Dominguez, the Third District reversed the trial court’s order denying Publix’s motion for judgment in accordance with its motion for directed verdict. The plaintiff suffered injuries when she slipped and fell on detergent that had spilled on the floor from a bottle that had fallen. The incident was captured on the video’s surveillance footage. The video showed that immediately upon the bottle falling, a Publix employee ran to the location of the spill, where he turned the bottle upright and began cleaning the spill. The employee’s back was turned to the plaintiff when she turned the corner and slipped on the spilled detergent. The time that elapsed between the bottle falling and the incident was thirteen seconds.

“A directed verdict is proper only when the record conclusively shows an absence of facts or inferences from facts to support a jury verdict, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” The Third District explained that a property owner owes to two duties to business invitees: (1) to warn of concealed dangers which are or should be known to the owner and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care; and (2) to use ordinary care to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition. The Third District found that because the condition in this case was open and obvious, the issue was whether Publix used ordinary care to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition, and not whether Publix failed to warn the plaintiff. The Third District further noted that in transitory substance cases, courts look to the length of time the condition existed before the accident occurred to determine whether ordinary care was met. The Third District discussed various cases in which one minutes or less was found not to be a reasonable amount of time for a store to correct a condition. The Third District concluded that given the time frame, Publix could not be held liable.

The Third District additionally held that the fact that Publix’s internal operating procedures called for the employee to immediately block off the aisle where the detergent fell did not change the result. While the operating procedures were relevant and admissible for the jury’s consideration, the Third District found that “internal safety policies do not themselves establish the standard of care owed to the plaintiff.”

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