Comparative Negligence For Wearing High-Heels? Fifth District Court of Appeals Says No!
Jennifer Bongiorno went to work one day dressed as she had every day before; wearing a pair of high-heels. However, on that day when she walked into the bathroom in her office building she slipped on the floor, falling and injuring herself. Ms. Bongiorno filed a lawsuit against the property owner and proceeded to a bench trial. In a bench trial the judge alone determines the verdict, there is no jury.
During closing arguments, the attorney for the property owner argued that Ms. Bongiorno should be found partially responsible for the fall because she was wearing “four-to-five inch high-heeled shoes.” This attorney argued that by choosing to wear four-to-five inch heels, Ms. Bongiorno assumed some risk that she might fall. After hearing all of the arguments, the judge in St. Johns County, Florida held that both parties were fifty percent responsible for the injuries. Yes, Ms. Bongiorno herself was deemed to be responsible for half of the injuries because she was wearing the same style of shoe she normally wore without incident.
Ms. Bongiorno’s attorneys appealed this issue and asked the 5th District Court of Appeal to reverse that 50% responsibility verdict. In Bongiorno v. Americorp, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D760c (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), the Court held that the property owner failed to sustain its burden that by wearing high-heels, Ms. Bongiorno created a “foreseeable zone of risk.” A “foreseeable zone of risk” means that a reasonable person could foresee or anticipate a certain consequence or outcome of their decisions. In this case, the property owner could not show that Ms. Bongiorno, by choosing to wear high-heels could have anticipated that she would slip and get injured. This decision effectively eliminated the 50% responsibility on Ms. Bongiorno and held the property owner 100% responsible for the damages.
While this opinion does not mean that anyone wearing high-heels can escape some responsibility in causing their own injuries, it does make it much more difficult for property owners to prove that pedestrians, employees, bystanders, or shoppers have a duty to wear “safe footwear” in slip-and-fall injuries. Many factors go into determining liability for “slip-and-fall” or “trip-and-fall” cases. It is important that if you are involved in this type of injury you document the condition of the ground surface, any warnings that may be present, and your footwear.