In October of 2013, the Florida Supreme Court issued a decision in
Friedrich v. Fetterman & Associates, PA, reinstating the jury’s verdict for a plaintiff injured while visiting
a law office and sitting in a chair to speak with an attorney about an
unrelated personal injury claim.
Robert Friedrich, the plaintiff in the recent case, was injured in a 2010
automobile accident. Following the accident, Friedrich visited the offices of Fetterman &
Associates, P.A., for a legal consultation about a potential
personal injury claim related to the accident. As Friedrich was meeting with one of the firm’s
lawyers, the office chair in which he was sitting collapsed. The chair’s
failure caused the man to fall and strike his head on the ground. After
the fall incident, Friedrich’s medical problems from the traffic
accident were exacerbated and he ended up having surgery.
Friedrich then proceeded to file a civil suit against Fetterman & Associates,
P.A.. In his legal complaint, he alleged the law firm had been negligent
by failing to inspect the chair and failed to warn him of the dangerous
conditions the office chair presented.
At trial, Friedrich presented an expert witness to testify that the firm
should have performed a hands-on inspection of its chairs every six months.
The expert claimed that such an inspection would have discovered the defective
condition which caused the chair to collapse. Fetterman’s expert
testified that the best inspection or test for a chair is for someone
to sit on it. The expert further contended that any inspection, including
a flex test, would not have revealed the defect.
At the conclusion of the Plaintiff’s case, the defense team moved
for a directed verdict. A directed verdict may be entered by a judge if,
based on the evidence in the case, he or she determines that no reasonable
jury could reach a decision to the contrary, essentially taking away the
jury’s authority to decide a case. The trial court then denied Fetterman’s
motion for a directed verdict. The case moved forward to a jury trial
and Friedrich was awarded damages totaling $2.2 million for the faulty
office chair incident.
Appeal Overturned by Florida Supreme Court
Next, the defendant appealed the decision and the Fourth District Court
of Appeal reversed the trial court, finding:
“Even if the jury concluded that due care required Fetterman to inspect
its chairs at regular six-month intervals, the jury had no basis from
which to conclude that Fetterman would have discovered the defect in the
Friedrich then appealed his case to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida
Supreme Court reversed the Fourth District’s decision by a 5-2 vote,
effectively reinstating the jury’s initial verdict. The Florida
Supreme Court held that the issuance of a directed verdict is inappropriate
when there is conflicting evidence regarding liability or the cause of
a plaintiff’s injuries exists. The Supreme Court concluded that
the Fourth District improperly ‘substituted its judgment concerning
the credibility of the witnesses for that of the trier of fact.’