A recent lawsuit filed by a Jacksonville, Florida resident against retail giant Wal-Mart was decided in the plaintiff’s favor with an overall judgment of $1 million; the decision represents a rare case in Florida legal proceedings both in the amount awarded and in the fact that the decision of liability was in the plaintiff’s favor.
According to legal analysts, the most logical reason that Valerie Dantzler, the plaintiff in the suit, won her case was that the scenario she presented seemed logical to the jury; in addition, Wal-Mart had destroyed key evidence that may have supported its case. Large retail corporations such as Wal-Mart tend to prefer to take personal injury cases such as slip and fall claims to court, rather than settle them privately; they feel that this discourages frivolous lawsuits from less upstanding individuals. According to Dantzler, on the day that her slip and fall accident happened, she had been shopping at the location for about an hour and a half; she went to a cashier to pay for the items she had selected. As she was heading back to one of the apartments to address a price discrepancy on some bed sheets, she slipped on a wet spot on the floor, causing irreversible nerve damage to her shoulder.
Dantzler had had surgery on her shoulder prior to the accident to address a pre-existing condition; the surgery had been two weeks before the incident, and she had followed up with her doctor on the day of the accident with no complaints, recovering well. The fall complicated her recovery and in essence made it so that she would live in permanent pain for the rest of her life. Wal-Mart, in turn, presented evidence that safety sweeps had been conducted in the store; however, the company had destroyed the security tape that would have proved—if it was true—that the sweeps had been done. In addition, Wal-Mart employees did not investigate Dantzler’s claim that the floor was wet when it happened, and no one interviewed the cashier who was with the plaintiff when she fell. The judgment in essence sent the message that, even if Wal-Mart had followed its procedures, they were still liable for spills on the floor likely to cause injury.
Because Florida is a comparative liability state, meaning that there is no cut-and-dry determination of one party’s liability versus the other, Dantzler received $800,000 of the $1 million judgment; it was determined that she was approximately 20% liable for her fall, while Wal-Mart was 80% liable for the conditions that caused the fall that resulted in her injury. The total included $195,000 for past and future lost wages and $585,000 in past and future damages for pain and suffering. Dantzler’s attorney, Mitch Stone, said of the suit’s outcome, “I think the jury just realized it was just wrong.” A representative from Wal-Mart stated that the company was looking into its options, and felt that the facts had not been adequately represented in the trial; however in the time since there has been no mention of a successful appeal filing.