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As 'slip and fall' lawsuits blossom, basic items become dangerous hazards

Published Oct. 8, 2013

Consumers beware: Hand sanitizer, fried potatoes, champagne, napkins, urine and a host of other everyday substances are lurking to land you on your keister.

At least that's what it feels like plowing through a pile of "slip and fall" lawsuits filed in Hillsborough and Pinellas courts. In these filings, everyday items become hazards blamed for causing people across Tampa Bay to slip, fall and suffer injuries in places ranging from an Outback Steakhouse restaurant and Target store to a museum and skateboard park.

The lawsuits claim owner negligence.

No doubt the recent recession aggravated things. Businesses pressed by hard times grew less vigilant about cleaning floors or warning customers of hazards. On the flip side, financially struggling patrons smelled opportunity in slippery floor mishaps.

But, come on, people. Reading some of these lawsuits, it's a wonder any of us make it through the day without contemplating litigation against somebody for something.

"Slip and fall" lawsuits is a loaded phrase. It reeks of too many TV-hyped lawyers seeking plaintiffs to sue over basic accidents. But let's be fair: Not all such legal claims are undeserving.

Frivolous or legit? You can get a sense from this sampling of recent cases:

• Angelina Nepa says she slipped on hand sanitizer and fell while at the Glazer Children's Museum this summer. She says she "neither saw the hand sanitizer nor any cautionary signs before she fell."

• Shopper Khaduah Nashagh says she was at a Tampa Walmart when she slipped and fell on a "fried potato" near the cash register. Nashagh says she sustained permanent injuries and a reduced ability to lead a normal life or earn money.

• Nearing his 76th birthday, Palmetto resident Carl Miller joined his family for dinner at an Outback Steakhouse in Plant City. Waiting for a table at the bar, Miller reached for his beverage when his bar stool allegedly slipped on a floor covered with grease. He fell backward and broke his neck. He died two weeks later.

• Nancijane McHenry says she was at a Target in Brandon when she slipped on what she thought was urine and fell. She allegedly suffered hospitalization, medical expenses, and a loss of earnings.

• Randy McAdoo says he was skateboarding at the SkatePark of Tampa when an unnamed employee began spraying champagne. McAdoo alleges he was seriously injured when he slipped and fell on the bubbly brew.

• Rocio Doherty was at the Acropolis in Riverview when its staff began dancing and "negligently and dangerously" tossing napkins into the air, as they do at all of the Greek restaurant chain's locations. While the staff typically sweeps up afterward, Doherty later slipped on a stray napkin and suffered "severe" injuries, including a fractured kneecap that required two surgeries.

Proving negligence is no slam dunk. Did the owner fail to clean up a slippery floor in a timely manner or was there simply insufficient time to do so before the fall? Could a reasonable customer see a floor hazard and be more responsible to avoid slipping?

Sometimes it really boils down to being more careful out there.

See you in court.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

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