Applying the Tipsy Coachman Doctrine
In a previous article, I discussed the appellate doctrine known as the tipsy coachman doctrine, which stands for the principle that an appellate court can affirm a trial court even if the trial court reached the right result (supported by the record) but for the wrong reasons. This doctrine allows an appellee (party prevailing in the trial court and responding to appeal) that is arguing to affirm the trial court’s ruling to present any argument on appeal supported by the record even if that argument was not raised in the trial court. Dade County School Board v. Radio Station WQBA, 731 So.2d 638, 645 (Fla. 1999).
For instance, a premise liability action is a type of negligence action where an invitee or attendee gets injured on another’s property. The very first element to prove in any negligent action is that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. In a premise liability action, if a defendant is deemed to exercise control over the premises / property, the defendant owes a duty of care to keep the premises / property reasonably safe and warn others of latent perils and dangers on the premises / property.
Assume in this type of premise liability action, an attendee at a festival or outdoor event tripped and injured himself/herself over some exposed material penetrating from the ground. The attendee sued the organizers of the festival or event in a premise liability action. The festival argued that it had no duty to the attendee because it did not own the property where the attendee tripped on exposed material penetrating from the ground. The trial court agreed with the festival and entered summary judgment in favor of the festival. On appeal, however, it appeared that the trial court incorrectly applied the law because the issue was not whether the festival actually owned the property where the attendee tripped, but whether it assumed any control over the premises in question that would trigger its duty to maintain that premises in a reasonably safe condition. The appellee, in trying to affirm the trial court’s ruling, raised an argument that was never raised at the trial level but supported by the record (the tipsy coachman doctrine). The appellee argued even if it had a duty to maintain the property, the exposed material that the attendee tripped on was so open and obvious as supported by the record that it had no duty to warn the attendee of this open and obvious condition. In other words, the appellee wanted to show that the trial court still reached the right result even if the trial court’s result was based on the wrong reason. (These facts are modeled after a recent appellate opinion in Cook v. Bay Area Renaissance Festival of Largo, Inc., 40 Fla. L. Weekly D1091b (Fla. 2d DCA 2015) where the appellee trying to affirm the trial’s court’s ruling raised a new argument to support the ruling not raised with the trial court.)
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