Eleventh Circuit Makes Evidentiary Ruling in Florida Slip-and-Fall Case Involving Expert Testimony

Earlier this month, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard an appeal from a slip-and-fall case that arose out of the Southern District of Florida. In the case of Sorrels v. NCL, the plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident as a customer aboard the defendant’s cruise liner. The plaintiff and her husband sued the cruise line for negligence in failing to maintain safe conditions aboard the boat.

The Facts at Trial

At trial, the evidence showed that the plaintiff slipped on the deck of the cruise ship after it had rained. As she slipped, she put her wrist down to lessen the blow to her body and ended up fracturing her wrist. To help prove their case of negligence against the cruise line, the plaintiffs called an expert witness to testify regarding the coefficient of friction (COF) on the ship deck. A COF is a scientific term used to measure how slippery a surface is:  the higher the number, the less slippery the surface.

The expert conducted some tests on the very same deck the plaintiff slipped on, although the tests were not performed until roughly a year and a half after the accident. However, to mimic the exact conditions of the deck on the day of the accident, the expert did conduct the tests after a rainfall.

The plaintiff’s expert put together a report that he planned to use at trial. In the report, he made several conclusions, including:

  • The ship deck’s COF varied according to the location tested but was between .15 and .70, with an average of .45. This was below the generally accepted value of “slip resistant” surfaces;
  • The cruise line should have known about the dangerously low COF, since other passengers had slipped on the deck in prior instances;
  • Due to the wide range of COFs on the deck, the deck lulled passersby into a “false sense of security;” and
  • Even if the cruise line had posted warning signs on the deck, the signs would be insufficient to warn customers of the “hidden” dangers.

The district court judge hearing the case disallowed all of the expert’s testimony, holding that the tests were conducted too long after the accident and that the testimony was of little value to the fact finder. The plaintiffs disagreed with the court’s ruing and appealed the case to the Eleventh Circuit.

On Appeal

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision in part and affirmed it in part. Specifically, the court determined that, although the tests were conducted some time after the accident occurred, they were still of probative value. Additionally, contrary to what the district court asserted in its opinion, the expert did not assert any opinion as to the condition of the deck on the day of the accident, only as to when he tested the surface himself.

The court, however, agreed with the district court as to the expert’s opinion regarding the “false sense of security” that the varying COFs on the ship deck created. The court explained that the expert was not able to say for certain that he tested the exact path that the plaintiff traveled on the morning of the accident. Therefore, his opinion as to any “false sense of security” was not based on tested scientific data.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a slip-and-fall accident in Florida, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as the case above illustrates, the road to recovery is not often a short and direct path. Often, months or years of diligent preparation are required before a case is ready for trial. To ensure that you are well represented leading up to and throughout your case, contact one of the skilled Florida personal injury advocates at the Law Offices of Robert Dixon. The dedicated advocates at the Law Offices of Robert Dixon offer experienced representation in all kinds of personal injury cases, including slip-and-fall cases. Call 877-499-HURT today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Speeding Accidents in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 29, 2015

Understanding Damages in Florida Personal Injury Cases, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 29, 2015

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