Defending Against Inference Stacking In Premises Liability Cases
By Josef B. Hess
Florida law requires a landowner to maintain the premises of one’s holdings in a reasonably safe condition. Part of this duty: To warn visitors of any dangerous conditions that the landowner is aware of, but that may not be visible to the naked eye.
For example, in case of a slip and fall scenario, the patron generally must present direct evidence to prove the landowner created the dangerous condition, knew about it and failed to provide any warning, or that said condition existed for long enough that it should have been discovered and fixed.
However, often a patron isn’t able to present direct evidence to support this type of personal injury claim, and will try to piece together several inferences to create a legal conclusion—in other words, inference stacking.
So, what exactly is inference stacking?
Inference stacking is the doctrine that prohibits a party from presenting several types of circumstantial evidence to reach a conclusion.
For example, in an actual case, a plaintiff sued a store after slipping and falling on a grape. The plaintiff was unable to present any direct evidence that the store knew the grape was on the floor, or that the grape had been on the floor for enough time to result in some sort of notice for the store—like thawing, cart marks, or footprints. The plaintiff was only able to speculate, and relied on an inference that the store must have known it was there.
The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim and granted summary judgment in favor of the store. The court held that the plaintiff relied only on inferences substantiated by conjecture and speculation. So the plaintiff’s attempt to inference stack was not sufficient to support a claim for personal injury.
In summary, the rule against inference stacking is to protect litigants from an adverse verdict based on sheer speculation. Our Rissman team has tremendous experience in defending against premises liability cases, and we’ve delivered numerous favorable results for its clients in situations like this one.
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