Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia slip-and-fall case discussing whether the lower court was correct to dismiss the plaintiff’s case against the defendant grocery store. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to survive the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and thus, should have been permitted to proceed to trial.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff finished shopping at the defendant grocery store and was returning the shopping cart to the corral. After leaving the cart, the plaintiff tripped and fell on the crossbar of the corral. Evidently, the crossbar was elevated a little over an inch off the ground because the corral had previously been hit by a delivery truck.

The grocery store acknowledged that it knew of the raised crossbar, and claimed that it had called for it to be fixed. The grocery store argued that the raised crossbar was clearly visible and that the plaintiff should have exercised caution to avoid the hazard. The lower court agreed that the hazard was open and obvious, dismissing the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff appealed.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Georgia premises liability case. The case stemmed from a tragic accident in which a woman and her sister attended a concert hosted by Mercer University at a city park. According to the court’s opinion, to enter the park, the women chose a stairway with a handrail. When they decided to leave the concert, they used the same set of stairs, but they had to go further down to get to their car. There was no handrail on this part of the stairs, and there was no other available stairway with handrails.

As the women were walking down the stairs, the plaintiff’s sister turned around to check on the plaintiff. When she turned around, she saw the plaintiff lose her balance, fall, and hit her head on the stairs. Sadly, the impact caused intense bleeding, which resulted in the plaintiff ending up in a coma. The woman was eventually taken off of life support and succumbed to her injuries.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the University based on the theories of negligence and premises liability. The University moved for summary judgment alleging that they were immune under the Recreational Property Act (RPA) and that the family did not establish that the University knew about the hazard. The trial court denied the University’s motion regarding its immunity claim. The University appealed the finding and argued that the RPA should bar the plaintiff’s claims.

When someone is injured in Georgia as the result of someone else’s negligence, the law allows them to bring a personal injury lawsuit against them to recover for their injuries. However, every personal injury case in the state must be brought within a certain time, which is listed in the relevant statute of limitations. In most Georgia personal injury cases, the plaintiff must file suit within two years of the date of the injury. However, state law allows parties to enter into contracts to limit the time within which a lawsuit may be brought, down to one year, for example.

In some cases, there may be disputes over whether or not this contractual provision applies to a specific suit. Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court considered a case where this issue arose. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a tenant in the defendant’s apartment complex, located in Morrow, Georgia. The parties entered into a written lease when the plaintiff moved in. The lease included, in part, a provision stating that the plaintiff agreed and understood that “any legal action” against the defendant “must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises.”

About a year after the contract was signed, the plaintiff was walking in a common area of the apartment complex when she tripped on a broken and crumbling portion of the curb. She then brought suit against the apartment complex for being negligent in not repairing the curb. The apartment complex then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred because it was not brought within one year, as stipulated in her signed lease. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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.

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