Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit requiring the court to determine if the defendant hotel had a duty to rescue the plaintiff, who had a stroke while inside his hotel room. Ultimately, the court determined that the hotel had no duty to rescue the plaintiff from a situation that the hotel did not create.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was an overnight guest in the defendant hotel. When the plaintiff woke up, he experienced numbness and tingling on the left side of his face and hand. The plaintiff went back to sleep and, after reawakening, collapsed as he tried to get out of bed.

The plaintiff believed he was having a stroke, and tried to call “0” on the hotel phone. However, no one answered. The plaintiff then called “66,” the number he believed to be the hotel’s emergency number. Again, no one answered. The plaintiff then called 911. When the emergency responders arrived at the hotel, there was no employee at the front desk. The emergency responders eventually found their way to the plaintiff’s room, and took him to the hospital where it was determined that the plaintiff had suffered a stroke.

In a recent Georgia personal injury case, the parents of a young man sued the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice alleging that their son was injured while he was detained at a youth detention facility. The parents alleged that an employee at the facility negligently closed an automatic steel door, causing the son’s finger to be amputated. Within a month of their son’s injury, the parents provided an ante litem notice to the Department. The notice did not provide an exact amount of loss claimed, but stated that the son required surgery, amputation, and continuing treatment. The notice also indicated that the boy’s mother had to miss work to bring her son in for medical treatment, so there would be “additional claims for monetary loss and mileage.” The claim further stated, “please advise if this ante litem notice is not sufficient to apprise you of the claims.”

The parents later filed a lawsuit, and the Department argued that the parents’ ante litem notice did not include the specific amount of loss claimed, as required under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The trial court dismissed the claim on that basis, and the parents appealed. On appeal, the parents argued that their notice was sufficient, and that the court should not have dismissed the claim.

The Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA) allows for a waiver of the state’s immunity under certain circumstances. Under the GTCA, one prerequisite to filing a claim against the State is to provide notice of the claim to the State before filing suit. Under OCGA § 50-21-26, the notice must include the name of the state entity, the acts that are the basis for the claim, the time and place of the injury, the specific acts that caused the loss, the nature of the loss suffered, and the amount of the loss claimed.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a decision in a Georgia premises liability case that arose out of a slip-and-fall accident that took place inside the defendant grocery store. The court was presented with the question as to whether the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that the defendant grocery store was aware of the hazard or should have been aware of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s fall.

According to the court’s written opinion, while the plaintiff was shopping at the defendant grocery store, he slipped in a puddle of liquid and fell to the ground. The plaintiff claimed that he did not see the puddle before stepping in it. As a result of the slip-and-fall accident, the plaintiff injured his shoulder and head, and later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the grocery store.

At trial, surveillance video was presented, showing a store employee walking by the area of the spill moments before the plaintiff’s fall. The employee did not stop to clean up the spill and by all indications did not see the spill. The defense also presented evidence of the store’s safety inspection plan. Apparently, store employees were responsible for sweeping and mopping the floors four times a day. Before beginning these routine sweeps, the employee was to input a code into the store’s computer system, logging in the sweep.

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