Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia personal injury case that arose after an accident that occurred in the Dominican Republic. The case required the court to determine if the lower court correctly held that the case should be transferred from Georgia, where the plaintiff filed the lawsuit, to the Dominican Republic. Finding that Georgia’s out-of-state venue statute only applied to cases that were being transferred to other states, the court denied the defendant’s request to transfer the case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was vacationing in the Dominican Republic when she was injured while on a zip-line course. Evidently, one of the zip-lines collapsed while the plaintiff was on the course.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the operator of the course. Because the defendant corporation was based out of Georgia, the plaintiff – who was from Michigan – filed the case in Georgia. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the “balance of private and public factors” weighed in favor of transferring the case to the Dominican Republic. Relying on OCGA § 9-10-31.1, the trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s case so that it could be refiled in the Dominican Republic. The plaintiff appealed.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit discussing whether a maintenance worker’s claim against an apartment complex could proceed under a premises liability theory. The court concluded that the worker did not assume the risk of injury because the nature of the work he was hired to complete did not put him on notice regarding the risk that ultimately led to his death.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was employed as a maintenance worker and was hired by the defendant apartment complex for occasional odd-jobs. Apparently, among the jobs the defendant asked the plaintiff to complete was to change the lightbulbs atop four light posts surrounding the complex’s tennis courts.

Evidently, the plaintiff changed the light bulbs once in the past by affixing two ladders together to reach the top of the light posts. When the defendant asked the plaintiff to replace the bulbs a second time, the plaintiff requested that the defendant rent a scissor lift because the poles were so high. The defendant rejected the plaintiff’s request, and the plaintiff agreed to change the light bulbs using the two-ladder system he had previously used. As the plaintiff was replacing one of the bulbs, the base of the pole snapped. The plaintiff fell to his death.

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In a recent Georgia slip-and-fall opinion, a state appellate court discussed whether a plaintiff’s case should proceed to trial against a defendant maintenance company. The case affirms the importance of conducting a thorough investigation before filing any Georgia personal injury lawsuit.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts leading up to the accident, the plaintiff was working at a restaurant when he was asked to empty a grease trap into a dumpster that was located in the rear parking lot of the restaurant. The plaintiff was in the process of walking to the dumpster when he stepped into an uncovered water meter. The plaintiff could not see the hole because he was carrying the grease trap. After tripping over the hole, the plaintiff spilled the hot grease on his face and body. He suffered serious injuries as a result.

Initially, the plaintiff filed a claim against his employer and several other parties. However, later the plaintiff named the defendant maintenance company after learning about a contract that the defendant maintenance company had with the plaintiff’s employer. (Note: this case only deals with the maintenance company; the plaintiff’s other claims were handled in separate cases.)

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in Georgia slip-and-fall case dismissing the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant based on the plaintiff’s failure to show that the defendant knew of the hazard that caused her fall. The case is especially important, because the defense used by the defendant is one that is commonly asserted in Georgia premises liability cases.

Georgia Premises Liability Claims

To succeed in a Georgia premises liability claim, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant landowner failed to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises safe. Georgia courts have held that a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant knew or should have known of the hazard in order to establish a defendant’s lack of reasonable care.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was at the defendant doctor’s office when she felt something “grab” her right pant leg as she walked by a desk. This caused the plaintiff to stumble, at which point she lost her balance and fell to the ground. After the fall, the plaintiff saw a wheelchair next to the desk, right next to the right side of her body.

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