Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Recently, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal of a trial court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant in a premises liability lawsuit. According to the facts as laid out by the court, a grocery store employee drove and parked his work truck in the store’s parking lot. During his daytime shift, he and another co-worker were clearing debris from a bridge on the store’s property. While they were working, the employee noticed a car approach his work truck, and he witnessed the driver get out of his vehicle and into his work truck. The employee approached his truck, and the man in the driver’s seat shot him.

The man’s wife filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store, claiming that they were negligent in failing to maintain, inspect, secure, and manage the parking lot. Further, she claimed that they were negligent in failing to remediate a history of crime in the vicinity. The defendants filed a motion contending that the victim voluntarily chose to join an affray and failed to exercise due care by approaching the man who shot him. The trial court found in the defendant’s favor, noting that the employee put himself in the situation where he was shot. The plaintiff appealed.

In front of the appellate court, the plaintiff claimed the lower court improperly granted summary judgment to the defendant because the employee did not willingly join in a fight and that there was at least a jury question regarding whether his behavior was reasonable. Under Georgia law, after a plaintiff meets the elements of a tort action, they must also overcome any contributory negligence claims. To overcome a defendant’s affirmative contributory negligence defense, the plaintiff must prove that they used ordinary care for their safety and to avoid consequences of a defendant’s apparent negligence. Defendants must present “plain, palpable, and undisputable” proof that a plaintiff failed to exercise ordinary care.

With the school year well underway, many students have returned to their college campuses. Whether your child is just starting their college journey or returning for their final year, no one expects to get hurt while living on campus. However, when these accidents occur, those responsible for causing the accident can often be held liable for any resulting injuries.

In a recent Georgia Court of Appeals opinion, a student sued a university after she suffered an accident in her dorm room. When the student moved in to begin her freshman year of college, her dorm room had two raised beds. One of the beds was higher than the other, and by the time the plaintiff arrived, her roommate had already chosen the lower bed. Initially, the plaintiff wanted to lower her bed, and submitted an online maintenance request, but the school never fulfilled the request. In addition, there was no ladder for the plaintiff to climb into the bed. Thus, to get onto her bed, the student had to step on a desk first and then climb in.

Following a Halloween party and a few drinks, the plaintiff arrived home and fell asleep. She fell out of her lofted bed, blacked out, and suffered serious injuries. After the accident, the plaintiff had to medically withdraw from her classes and was only able to return briefly in the spring before withdrawing again because of the severity of her injuries. For the brief time the plaintiff was back at school that Spring, she purchased a bed rail on her own and lowered the height of her bed to that of her roommate’s. Subsequently, the plaintiff sued the university, claiming it was negligent in failing to provide safety rails on the raised bed. She argued that the university’s failure to do so was the proximate cause of her injuries. The university appealed after unsuccessfully moving for summary judgment.

An appellate court recently issued an opinion in a restaurant owner’s appeal of a trial court’s denial of his motion for summary judgment in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit. The plaintiff suffered injuries after tripping over a root in the restaurant parking lot. The owner argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the plaintiff did not prove that the owner had “superior knowledge” of the hazard.

The record indicates that the plaintiff tripped on a partially exposed root in the restaurant parking lot’s dirt area. At the time of the accident, the root was about two inches out of the ground; however, it was not in that condition four days earlier, when a landscaping crew inspected the area. The owner argued that the root was an unhidden, naturally-occurring object.

In Georgia premises liability cases, invitees, such as the plaintiff in this case, must establish that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the danger, and the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the danger, despite exercising ordinary care. These cases typically hinge on whether the owner or occupier had “superior knowledge” of the hazard or danger. In these cases, summary judgment is only appropriate if the evidence is “plain, palpable, and undisputed.”

Recently, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from injuries a man suffered while working on a homeowner’s property. According to the court’s opinion, the homeowner owned and operated a contracting, framing, and remodeling business. The plaintiff worked for the defendant’s company. On some occasions, the employer offered his employees an opportunity to perform tasks on his personal property, to earn extra money. This work was “completely separate” from their work for the company and was performed for the homeowner’s personal benefits.

On the occasion giving rise to the claim, another employee asked the owner if he could perform some tasks at his home on the upcoming Saturday. The owner agreed and paid the employee. The employee then asked the plaintiff if he wanted to make extra money by assisting him with the tasks; the plaintiff agreed. On the day of the incident, the homeowner left his residence while both the employee and plaintiff worked at his home. The employee told the plaintiff that the homeowner asked him to trim the fence and burn the brush. The employee began to spread gasoline to begin the fire; however, the brush blew up like an explosion and burned the plaintiff’s skin off.

The plaintiff filed a claim against the homeowner, arguing, that the homeowner was negligent for failing to supervise the brush burning, having gasoline on his property, not training the plaintiff as to the proper use of the gasoline, and not training the other employee on how to use or supervise the brush burning. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the owner was responsible for the employee under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Making the decision to send a loved one or family member to a personal care home or facility can often be a stressful process. Many families, in the process of making this decision, have to consider various factors. Will the facility treat my family member with care? What if an accident happens? Is it safe? While these are valid concerns, no one expects that their loved ones will be injured or even killed when they move into these homes. When accidents involving severe injury or even death occur on the premises of such a facility, those who are responsible may be held accountable through a Georgia nursing home negligence case or other type of premises liability action.

In a recent Georgia Court of Appeals opinion, an autistic resident died after choking on food at a personal care home. The resident had been diagnosed with severe autism, was unable to speak, and had the mental age of a three-year-old child. After his loved ones decided to place him in a personal care home, his guardian informed the facility that his food needed to be cut up “because he only swallowed.”

On the day of the incident, the resident returned to the dining area after finishing his own breakfast and attempted to eat a sausage he took from another resident’s plate. In the process of eating it, the resident choked. His caretakers at the facility attempted to rescue him by performing an abdominal thrust but were unsuccessful. The resident asphyxiated on the food and died. Subsequently, the administrator of the resident’s estate brought nine causes of action arising out of his care against the personal care home, some of its staff, and the owners of the home.

Recently, the Court of Appeals of Georgia issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by a surviving spouse of a man who died after falling into an open well. The man was driving his four-wheeler on a tract of land when his wheel entered a well that was covered by vegetation. His vehicle flipped over, and the man fell into the well.

The man’s wife filed a negligence lawsuit against several parties, including a forestry services company, based on OCGA § 44-1-14, which requires that individuals must report abandoned wells located on any public or private property to relevant county officials. She argued that the forestry company performed work on the property and negligently failed to report the well to the property owner. The defendant asked the court to dismiss the case because, amongst other issues, the plaintiff was unable to present evidence that the defendant knew of the well before her husband’s death or breached any duty to him.

Under Georgia law, plaintiffs in negligence actions must provide evidence that the defendant owed a legal duty to the victim, that they breached that duty, that a causal connection exists between the conduct and injury, and that the plaintiff suffered damages. In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant was liable under the theory of negligence per se for violating OCGA § 44-1-14 because they did not report the well.

Recently, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a defendant’s appeal of a trial court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment. The case arose after a woman suffered injuries at her apartment complex. The woman went to the apartment complex’s car cleaning area to vacuum her daughter’s car. As she stepped out of the car to reach for the vacuum, she tripped and fell backward. She subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the apartment complex, arguing that she fell on a foreign substance.

During the deposition, the woman conceded that she did not know what caused her to fall backward or what caused her foot to slip. However, when the woman’s attorney asked her about why she thought she fell, the woman responded that she believed she slid on slippery rocks. The woman further testified that the stones were dry, and she did not come into contact with any liquid. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no evidence of any dangerous condition. The trial court denied the motion, holding that a jury could find that the rocks may have been slippery from the car wash area.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding based on the plaintiff’s failure to present evidence of a dangerous condition. Under Georgia law, plaintiffs who do not prove the cause of their injuries cannot recover for their damages. In slip and fall cases, plaintiffs must establish the existence of a dangerous condition on the premises. Proof of a fall, without more, does not automatically create liability on the part of the business owner.

Property owners and business owners may be liable for injuries or other damages caused by third parties committing criminal acts against members of the public who have been invited onto their property. A recently released decision by the Court of Appeals of Georgia addresses the standards for pursuing a Georgia personal injury lawsuit against a property owner for injuries suffered by a lawful invitee to the premises as a result of the unlawful conduct of a third party.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a truck driver who had parked his truck in a lot owned by the defendant as part of an agreement between the defendant and the plaintiff’s employer. The plaintiff woke up in the middle of the night by a man who was parked against his truck and attempting to break-in. The plaintiff opened his door and stepped onto the other man’s truck. The other driver attempted to drive away from the attempted robbery, causing the plaintiff to fall under the moving truck and get run over, which resulted in serious injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued the defendant property owner, alleging that the parking lot was supposed to be secure, and that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from any intervening criminal acts committed by third parties. Before trial, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff, which was granted by the trial court, which determined as a matter of law that the criminal act was not foreseeable to the defendant, and therefore no cause of action existed.

Injury victims who are hurt as a result of the negligence of an employee of a government agency or municipality face additional hurdles in seeking recovery for their loss. A state appellate court recently released a decision in a Georgia premises liability case, siding with a Georgia city and illustrating this point. As a result of the recent ruling, the injured plaintiffs will be unable to pursue their claim against the city.

The plaintiffs in the recently decided case are a group of people who were injured when a dock ramp owned by the city of Savannah collapsed while the plaintiffs were waiting to board a ferry that was alleged to be a part of the city’s municipal road system. The dock collapse injured several people, who filed suit against the city and municipal transit authority operating the ferry, alleging that they negligently operated the ferry system. Before trial, the city disputed its liability for the claim, alleging that as a municipality it was immune from a negligence lawsuit. The trial court ruled against the city’s motion, finding that under Georgia law, a city can be sued for failure to maintain public roads, which includes ferries.

The city appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals of Georgia, claiming that they had sovereign immunity from the suit under Georgia law. The appellate court agreed with the lower court that the ferry system, and therefore the dock that collapsed, were part of the public road system as required by state law for the city to waive sovereign immunity. However, the court went on to find that the city ultimately was immune from suit because the city did not have notice of any defect in the ramp, nor should they have noticed it by practicing ordinary care and due diligence in maintaining the ramp and ferry system. Because the plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence to the court to demonstrate that the city should have known about the dangerous ramp, they will not be able to pursue their claim against the city.

In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia slip-and-fall case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim against a homeowner could proceed to trial based on circumstantial evidence of the homeowner’s negligence. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the defendant homeowner’s testimony directly contradicted the inferences the plaintiff asked the court to make, the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The court explained the facts as follows: the plaintiff was attending a friend’s birthday when she slipped and fell on an extension cord. Although the party was at the defendant’s home, the defendant was not present at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. Evidently, the defendant had allowed a friend to use his property to host the party, and the defendant was not involved in the planning or execution of the event.

The plaintiff based her case on a claim that the defendant was negligent in the upkeep of his home. Specifically, by allowing an extension cord to run down a set of outdoor steps, creating a hazard to guests. The defendant claimed that he did not place the cord along the steps and had no knowledge of who did. He admitted that he owned similar extension cords and that he was doing yard work earlier that day, but explained that the tools he was using in the yard were all gas-powered and none used an extension cord.

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