Investor pays hefty price for failing to answer slip and fall lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court on March 17 sided with the plaintiff in reinstating a default judgement and jury award of around $1.1 million against a real estate investor who did not respond to a slip and fall lawsuit in a timely manner.

Anamaria Santiago sued Mauna Loa Investments, LLC, in February 2010. She leased a commercial warehouse from the company for an art business. The tenant allegedly tripped and fell due to holes and uneven surfaces on a concrete walkway at the property.

According to the complaint, Santiago said Mauna Loa controlled the property when she had the accident in 2008. However, the company bought the warehouse from Iberia NV LLC around three months after the tenant’s injury. Santiago later sued Iberia for the same incident. In that complaint, she claimed Iberia owned the property when her accident occurred.

The two cases were consolidated. Although Mauna Loa argued it was not liable as it did not own the warehouse on the date of the accident, the company’s attorney failed to file a responsive pleading. As a result, the trial court entered a default judgement against Mauna Loa and awarded Santiago nearly $1.1 million.

Citing the Iberia case in support of its argument, Mauna Loa appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal. The court voided the default judgement and dismissed the complaint due to Santiago’s failure to state a cause of action for premises liability against the company.

However, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s ruling. It found the district court incorrectly examined documents attached to the Iberia lawsuit when determining the Mauna Loa complaint’s sufficiency to state a cause of action. The court held Mauna Loa lacked proof of excusable neglect for failing to respond to the complaint in order to void the default judgment. According to the court, “After one call to her attorney’s office, the company’s president took no further action to assure a timely response to the complaint was filed.”

It is important to note that determining fault can be more complicated than it might seem. If you were injured and you believe someone else is fully or partially to blame, contact Chalik & Chalik to learn more about your rights.