On October 24, 2013, the Florida Supreme Court reinstated a $1.2 million final judgment awarded to a prospective client of a personal injury law firm who sat in a chair that collapsed during a consultation at the firm.  See Friedrich v. Fetterman & Assocs., P.A., No. SC11-2188, 2013 WL 5745617 (Fla. Oct. 24, 2013) (to read the slip opinion, click here).  The issue in the case centered around whether plaintiff’s expert’s testimony was legally sufficient to establish causation.  In finding that it was legally sufficient, the supreme court quashed the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision vacating the judgment.

            The facts are straightforward.  Following a car accident, Robert Friedrich met with an attorney at the personal injury firm of Fetterman & Associates, P.A. regarding possible legal representation.  The conference room chair Friedrich was sitting on collapsed, causing Friedrich injuries.  Friedrich in turn sued Fetterman for negligently failing to warn him of the chair’s dangerous condition. 

            At trial, it was undisputed that the chair had a defect that was not visible to the naked eye and that none of the chairs in the conference room had any prior problems.  Plaintiff’s expert testified that he inspects his own chairs every six months by performing a “flex test.”  He also testified that it was possible to inspect a chair today, find no problem, and have it fail tomorrow.  As for the chair in question, he testified that a hands-on inspection of it before the accident would have found the defect.  Fetterman’s expert, on the other hand, testified that the best test for a chair is to sit on it and that a reasonable inspection, including a flex test, would not have revealed the defect in the subject chair.

            The trial court denied Fetterman’s multiple motions for a directed verdict and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Friedrich.  On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court and ordered that a directed verdict be entered in favor of Fetterman.  The supreme court quashed the Fourth District’s decision, concluding that it “impermissibly reweighed the evidence and substituted its own evaluation of the evidence in place of that of the jury.”  The Court concluded that there was sufficient proof to support the jury’s finding that the defendant’s negligence “probably caused” the plaintiff’s injury.

            Chief Justice Polston dissented with an opinion and Justice Canady concurred in the dissent.  As a threshold issue, Justice Polston believed that there was no basis for the Court to exercise conflict jurisdiction over the case.  He next stated that the majority failed to mention two critical aspects of the testimony of plaintiff’s expert that he believed supported the directed verdict:  (1) he testified that he had no opinion as to how quickly the failure in the chair occurred and that the weakened condition could have manifested in seconds, minutes, hours, days, or weeks before the accident; and (2) he conceded that the defect may not have been detectable by an inspection until just before the collapse and offered “no time frame concerning how long before the accident such testing would have been effective.”

            The Court’s decision will not be final until the time to file a motion for rehearing expires or until the Court decides any filed motions for hearing.  To check on the current status of this case, please click here