Blog by B. Morales, Rubenstein Law
When Juan Del Valle went to buy an onion at his local grocery store, he never imagined he would slip and fall, much less require metal plates, a battery and screws implanted in his neck and back “for the rest of life.”
Juan and his wife hired Rubenstein Law to sue Winn Dixie Stores, Inc. for negligence. Attorneys Meranda Reifschneider and Raul E. Garcia secured the couple a $4.8 million jury verdict.
While grocery shopping in July 2014, Juan rounded the corner of a produce case and slipped in a puddle of water. Falling on his lower back, he also hit his head against the back of the produce case. The impact left him dizzy, confused, and with pain in his neck and back.
Why It Was Negligence
When Juan turned the corner, he never saw the caution sign from his direction. It was hidden from view—where it wasn’t supposed to be.
But a sign would not have sufficed. The cooler had been leaking for weeks, and the store’s only solution was to place absorbent strips around its edge to absorb leakage. However, if the employees don't check and replace the strips often, they become over-saturated. Evidently, they didn't do this, and water pooled near the cooler.
Video surveillance revealed that in the hour before Juan’s fall, no one had checked the absorbent strips, allowing water to accumulate. The store should have properly repaired their broken equipment or taken it out of service, checked the leak and absorbent strips often, kept the floor dry, and placed barricades, safety cones, or visible wet floor signs to alert customers. While an employee acknowledged the cooler had been leaking for weeks, the defense still alleged that there was “no hint of water” before the fall. However, the fire rescue that attended to Juan’s injuries at the scene of the accident noted the water in their report.
After fire rescue left the premises, the video revealed that instead of following the protocol to unplug the cooler, Winn Dixie staff replaced the strips and kept the defective machine in use.
The defense argued that the 57-year-old’s injuries were a product of his age. However, Juan had never complained of back or neck pain before the accident.
How the Slip and Fall Affected the Plaintiff
Following his fall, Juan underwent a course of physical therapy, orthopedic care, and pain management injections to relieve pain--all to no avail. He then had to get high-risk back and neck operations, including fusions to his cervical and lumbar spine.
A spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back now sends electrical pulses to block pain via wires that run from a generator to his spinal cord. The generator requires replacing every ten years, showing Juan will need a minimum of two or three additional surgeries to replace it.
Reifschneider, Garcia and their team worked diligently to ensure Juan received proper compensation for the challenges he’ll face for the rest of his life because of Winn-Dixie’s negligence.
How They Won the Case
Winn Dixie’s attorneys, Evan Abel and Michael Brand of Cole, Scott, and Kissane in Miami said Juan should have noticed the water and “been extra careful” not to slip, also blaming Juan for wearing flip-flops.
The defense’s claims didn’t sit well with the jury at trial. They also saw Juan’s scar-covered back and the remote control device that sends electrical signals to his spine.
Garcia, who served as co-counselor to Reifschneider, knew the jury would not hesitate to “assess this gentleman’s losses and return a just verdict.” He described the evidence of negligence in this case as “overwhelming,” “powerful,” and “convincing.”
On September 11, 2018, the jury moved to award Juan and his wife $4,877,775.85.
“Slip and fall cases are challenging, even with good facts,” said Garcia, who was co-counsel to Reifschneider. “In this case, the jury clearly understood what Winn Dixie did wrong and the monumental impact the negligence had and will continue to have on Mr. Del Valle’s life.”
Thankfully, Juan was compensated for his injuries, his medical needs and the strain on his family. His win also serves as recognition for Rubenstein Law and their team that worked tirelessly to acquire a just return.
Should you slip, trip or fall in a store, here’s what you need to know.
Public places such as supermarkets, shopping malls or restaurants all have a legal duty to maintain their premises and keep them safe from any foreseeable harm. Premise negligence can come in the form of disrepairs, wet floors, poor lighting causing reduced visibility, lack of proper warning or other unsafe conditions that management or staff should be aware of within reason. In other words, negligence is failing to use reasonable care.
Do you know what to do or what evidence you need if you slip or trip and fall? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t assume guilt, apologize, or downplay the situation. Even if you don’t realize it at first, premise negligence may have caused your accident.
- Get immediate medical attention as necessary. Calling paramedics for serious injury or visiting your doctor following the incident will ensure you receive the proper care you need and will build your case. The sooner the better.
- Get contact information from witnesses--including first and last name, phone numbers, and email addresses.
- Ask to see the manager or head supervisor of the location to report the incident. Ask the manager to file an incident report. Keep the written report for your records.
- Keep your receipt if you made a purchase in the store where the incident occurred.
- Use your cell phone to take photos of your injury, the accident area, and its surroundings from both a close-up angle and from further away—every bit of evidence helps, and cell phone photos are time-stamped as further proof.
- As much as possible, stay off social media. As tempting as it may be to share about your recent mishap, the defendant could use anything you post against you. Resist publicizing your impending case and avoid posting anything that could disprove your condition.
- Seek legal help first before making any statements, accepting any settlement offer, or signing any documents or medical releases from the insurance company. Insurance company adjusters may try to limit your compensation. Refer all questions to your attorney.
- Document everything. You must be able to prove that negligence caused your accident.
Slip and fall injuries can be worse than initially suspected and symptoms can sometimes appear days or even weeks later. Don’t let inexperience complicate matters for you or your loved one. Your best bet is to learn your legal rights and share this information with those you care about.
After an accident, you’ll need to focus on getting better, so we’ll handle the rest. With our resources and experience, we can help you identify the defendants, document damages, gather and preserve evidence, deal with paperwork, and build your case to show how and why the defendant was negligent.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of a slip and fall or trip and fall, call us to help. Contact Rubenstein Law injury lawyers at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. We are here 24/7, nights and weekends.