Florida attorneys H. Ross Zelnick and Miguel A. Amador of Ginnis, Krathen, & Zelnick PA announced recently that their client was awarded $7.8 million in one of the largest slip-and-fall verdicts in state history. The complaint, filed in Broward County, alleged that Richard Tulecki sustained injuries during a restroom fall at a Hollywood, Florida Burger King location. The jury, after 2.5 hours of deliberation found in favor of Tulecki deciding that Burger King franchisee Seven Restaurants’ negligence caused Mr. Tulecki to slip and fall inside the restaurant in 2019, making the restaurant liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and expenses.
“Delivering this verdict to our client means everything,” Zelnick, Tulecki’s co-lead plaintiff attorney, responded to the verdict. “Our client suffered tremendous hardship due to the defendant’s negligence. While no verdict can undo those damages, it will provide him and his family with the resources to move forward.” Amador, the co-lead prosecuting attorney said that he and his team ceased negotiations with the restaurant’s “unreasonable” insurance company, when they denied wrongdoing and made a $200,000 settlement offer. “Together with our client we had our day in court,” Amador said.
In the complaint, Zelnick and Amador claim that Tulecki slipped and fell on a “wet foreign substance” resulting in serious lower back injuries. As a result of the injuries, Mr. Tulecki required surgery. Complications during the procedure led to a perforated colon, requiring additional surgery, and causing subsequent harm that left him permanently injured.
A decisive factor in the case’s success was the firms’ ability to link Tulecki’s fall to colon issues through medical records. Medical expert witnesses in this case successfully connected the injuries and subsequent complications to the bathroom fall.
There was no response to post verdict requests for comments or statements from Burger King’s media contacts. However, Seven Restaurants, the franchise’s operator, filed a motion for a new trial, in which he alleged that Tulecki’s attorneys presented “virtually no evidence” that his Burger King management was aware of the slippery bathroom floor.
Tulecki was awarded $7.81 million in damages, including $3.35 million for lost earnings and $700,000 for medical expenses. The court reduced the amount, however, to $7.68 million to account for medical expenses previously covered by Tulecki’s insurance. According to his lawyers, Tulecki’s injuries prevented him from continuing his employment, which was “a major part of his identity.” This resulted in financial and emotional hardship. They added that settlement funds will be used to help pay medical bills associated with treating Tulecki’s back injuries.
Zelnick said the case was a victory for individuals seeking negligence damages after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed tort reform HB 837 into law in March of 2023. In part, the law shortened the statute of limitations for negligence claims from four years to two. In addition, the law eliminated Florida’s old comparative negligence rule, which permitted plaintiffs to recover damages even if they were primarily at fault and changed the state’s bad faith statute by stating that negligence alone does not constitute bad faith. The bill also eliminated the one-way attorney fee provision that entitled an insured to reasonable attorney fees when they recover damages.
Republicans in the Florida House and DeSantis said the bill would reduce frivolous lawsuits. In addition, Florida would change its reputation as a litigation hot spot and attract more investors to the state. According to critics, such as the Florida Justice Association, the bill was an “unprecedented attack on access to justice in our state.”
“This bill benefits corporate giants and insurance companies to the detriment of the citizens of Florida,” Zelnick said Thursday. “A verdict of this magnitude sends a strong message that corporate greed will not be tolerated in Broward County. Our client left the courthouse with confidence in the civil justice system and feels his voice was heard.”