Although jurors in a trip-and-fall negligence lawsuit had found in favor of the plaintiff in Christakis v. Terrace, the Broward County trial judge granted defense a judgment notwithstanding verdict. That means in spite of what the jury said, the judge believed the evidence did not support the verdict.
It’s a decision that many appeals courts carefully scrutinize, given the weight courts tend to place on the conclusions of juries. This case was no different.
Although exact details of the case aren’t offered in the two-page per curium opinion drafted by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, we do know the primary issue was the fact that plaintiff had been unable to say exactly what caused her fall, though she presented evidence that it was likely a defect in the staircase.
Court records indicate the location of the incident is a residential apartment complex. Florida Residential Building Code offers industry standards for properly-constructed stairways and rails. Again, we don’t know what the exact defect was in this case, but we can say based on that code that some of the construction standards require that stairways:
- Be at least 36 inches in clear width at all points above the handrail;
- Handrails can’t project more than 4.5 inches on either side of the stairway;
- There has to be at least 6 feet, 8 inches of headroom at all points in a stairway;
- The sum of two risers and a tread on a stairway can’t be less than 24 inches nor more than 25 inches;
- Riser slop can’t exceed 30 inches;
- Handrails have to be appropriate grip size;
- Balcony guards have to be at least 36 inches where the total rise is higher than 30 inches;
- Stair guards at minimum have to be at least 34 inches.
In this case, there was conflicting evidence as to the causation. Plaintiff indicated that although she couldn’t say exactly what made her fall, she did present photos of the steps, which were in disrepair, as well as expert witness testimony that proved why the stairs did not meet the standards.
The trial judge had decided that the plaintiff was building an inference upon an inference. However on appeal, the 4th DCA stated this wasn’t so because there was evidence to back her claim. In fact, it was almost identical to a 1978 case before the 3rd DCA, Roach and Raubar. In that case, plaintiff also suffered trip-and-fall injuries, but couldn’t say exactly why she fell. However, she did present photos to show the step upon which she fell was damaged. Under those circumstances, the court ruled, jurors would be entitled to find the plaintiff’s fall was occasioned by the defective condition insofaras the evidence showed the fall happened at a time and place where the defective condition existed.
It was the same situation in this case. Therefore, the appeals court decided, the trial court erred in issuing a verdict notwithstanding judgment. Appeals justices reversed the judge’s order, thereby reinstating the jury’s verdict for compensation.
Although many slip-and-fall and stairway trip-and-fall cases are settled out-of-court prior to trial, injured persons must have an attorney who will be willing to fight the case at trial – and beyond.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Christakis v. Terrace, Jan. 6, 2015, Florida’s 4th DCA
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