Sometimes I marvel at the dangerous conditions and practices at certain businesses and how they continue for years without anyone pausing to say, “This is really not safe.” A good example is this recent Florida Appeals Court Decision.
The appellant, Jane Izquierdo, filed a personal injury action alleging negligence by the defendant, Gyroscope, Inc., which owned and operated Giorgio’s Grill. She alleges that she slipped and fell on a wet napkin, breaking her leg. The defendant denied any negligence.
At trial, the jury learned that Giorgio’s was a restaurant which became a night club after certain hours. It had a tradition of both the wait staff and customers throwing paper napkins into the air as the music played throughout the evening. The napkins would land on the floor of the restaurant. No one would pick them up, although when they became too deep, customers would push them to the side. Because drinks were occasionally spilled, sometimes the napkins would be wet.
Both Izquierdo and her fiancÃ© testified that they went to the restaurant to meet a friend around midnight on the night of the incident….
Upon arriving, they sat down at one of the tables in the back of the club. The restaurant was relatively crowded. Izquierdo had one drink and then went to the restroom. On the way back from the restroom she slipped and fell, breaking her leg in the process. After she was on the ground, she observed that the floor was wet and napkins were on her shoes. Her fiancÃ© heard her scream, came running, and also observed the wet napkins on her shoes. While she did not know exactly how she slipped, she knew she slipped on something, and assumed that she slipped on the napkins. Her clothes were wet from being on the ground.
Izquierdo was in great pain and had to be carried out of the restaurant where she waited for an ambulance. She was transported to the hospital and had surgery the next day to repair her broken leg. She relied on a wheelchair for three months and continued to have pain and limitations afterward.
The testimony regarding negligence from both Izquierdo and her fiancÃ© was not conflicting nor was it impeached. More importantly, the manager of the restaurant admitted that permitting the wet napkins to remain on the floor was a hazardous condition. Although the defendant argued in closing that Izquierdo did not know how she fell, the circumstantial evidence included her testimony that she slipped, went down on a wet floor, and found napkins on her shoes. The inference that the wet napkins on the floor caused her fall clearly was the only reasonable inference which could be drawn from the facts presented. The defendant offered no contrary interpretation consistent with the facts proved.
The only good thing that can be said about the restaurant’s napkin throwing tradition is it eventually provided the wet-napkins-on-the-shoes evidence which permitted the injured patron to prove her claim. Other dangerous situations do not leave such a direct trail from the slip and fall to the misconduct.