Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal from a judgment in favor of a plaintiff in her lawsuit against the City of Atlanta. The woman filed a lawsuit to recover for damages she incurred after driving into an open manhole. The woman contended that the government should be liable for her injuries because the manhole was a public nuisance. The city appealed a jury finding in favor of the woman, arguing that the woman did not meet her evidentiary burden.

Under Georgia law, a municipality “may be held liable for damages it causes to a third party from the operation or maintenance of a nuisance, irrespective of whether it is exercising a governmental or municipal function.” To recover for damages plaintiffs must present evidence that:

  1. The severity of the defect is a result of conduct that exceeds mere negligence;

In a recent appellate opinion, a Georgia slip and fall injury victim appealed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a store owner. On appeal, the woman argued that the trial court erred in finding that the store did not contain a dangerous condition, that she possessed knowledge of the defects, and that the distraction theory could not apply.

The case stems from injuries that the woman suffered when she visited the store. The woman’s neighbor drove her to the store and parked her car on the side of the store. The parking lot contained parking abutments in the parking spaces; parking for disabled vehicles had blue abutments. When the woman was leaving the store, she walked by a sidewalk display and became distracted by the display racks and other customers. As she stepped down from the sidewalk, she hit a slanted parking abutment and fell forward, suffering serious injuries to her knee, elbow, and head. Her lawsuit against the store alleged that the store breached its duty to keep their property safe.

Under Georgia law, premises liability plaintiffs must show that their injuries were the result of a hazard on an owner’s premises that they should have removed in the exercise of ordinary care. The two main elements that Georgia slip and fall or trip and fall victims must establish is that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard, and the plaintiff, despite exhibiting ordinary care, lacked knowledge of the danger because of the defendant. Moreover, where static conditions are at issue, if a person has previously successfully negotiated the condition, the person is presumed to have equal knowledge, and therefore cannot recover for subsequent resulting injuries. Further, if nothing obstructs the injury victim’s view, the owner may appropriately assume that the invitee will realize any associated risks. In these instances, plaintiffs may assert the distraction theory. The distraction theory includes situations where the plaintiff’s attention is distracted because of a natural and usual cause. However, merely failing to look ahead will not relieve their responsibility.

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.

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing an issue that frequently comes up in premises liability cases.  Specifically, the case involved the “superior knowledge” requirement.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff suffered injuries when he fell through a skylight that he was dismantling at a church. The church recently purchased a building from a defunct hospital, and the plaintiff, another church member, and a pastor undertook the disassembling. The plaintiff volunteered to remove the structure based on his previous experience working with a contractor to rebuild a shed at his house. The pastor at the church used a forklift to lift the plaintiff and the other church member onto the roof. No one was wearing a hardhat or any other safety harnesses. The plaintiff did not hear a warning to watch out for a skylight and subsequently fell through the light and suffered severe injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the church and the hospital. He alleged that the church was liable because he was an invitee of the church, so the hospital and the church owed him a duty to exercise reasonable care to make sure that the roof was safe.

Under Georgia law, the crux of a premises liability lawsuit often hinges on the property owner’s superior knowledge of the dangerous condition. Plaintiffs cannot recover damages if they could have avoided their injuries by exercising ordinary care. Furthermore, Georgia courts generally look at whether the plaintiff exhibited common sense to prevent their injuries. Usually, Georgia slip and fall cases involve two types of cases:  static defect claims and foreign substance claims.

Sometimes, accidents happen out of pure chance or bad luck, with no one to blame. Often, however, accidents resulting in injuries are preventable and caused by someone else’s negligence. In these cases, Georgia law allows the victim, hurt because of someone else’s actions, to file suit to recover monetary damages. Damages in a Georgia personal injury accident can cover past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. For this reason, these civil suits are incredibly important to victims and their families in the aftermath of an accident, especially a costly one. Thus, plaintiffs must understand all the rules governing personal injury lawsuits fully, because one mistake could result in the case being dismissed, and the plaintiff barred from recovery.

One of the important aspects of filing a suit to keep in mind is the rules governing notice. Plaintiffs, when they file a lawsuit, are required to notify the other party. The rules of notice may change depending on the defendant. For instance, in Georgia, a plaintiff filing a suit against a city must do so per Georgia Code § 36-33-5-(e). This notice must be ante litem, or given in advance of the filing of the case. This means plaintiffs have to let the city know they intend on suing the city before the actual lawsuit can be filed. This notice must include a number of specific things, and failure to properly notify a city properly will result in the claim being dismissed, regardless of what the city did.

For example, take a recent Georgia Appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she attended a street festival in the city. During this festival, she stepped into a hole in a crosswalk area and suffered a broken leg, requiring surgery and physical therapy. According to the plaintiff, residents complained about this hole to the city previously, but the city failed to fix it. The plaintiff, intending to sue the city for negligence, filed a complaint and provided ante litem notice to the city. However, the court ultimately dismissed her case, because she failed to include everything needed in the notice. Specifically, OCGA § 36-33-5 (e) requires a plaintiff to include the specific amount of monetary damages sought from the city, and the plaintiff only said that “the value may exceed $300,000.00.” Because of this, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed and she was unable to proceed in her suit against the city, even though she had been injured.

The procedural rules for filing a Georgia negligence lawsuit can be complex, and are always important for a plaintiff to follow. However, strict compliance with procedural requirements is especially important when a plaintiff seeks damages from a government entity. A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of a personal injury claim filed against the state of Georgia should serve as a reminder of this importance.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she was injured as a result of an escalator malfunction while attending an Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in the fall of 2015. The woman claimed the operators of the Georgia Dome were negligent by failing to maintain and inspect the escalator, and she was seriously injured by the malfunction. The plaintiff sued the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which is the state government entity that operates the Georgia Dome, requesting over $6 million in damages as compensation for her injuries and loss.

Before a trial was held over the plaintiff’s claim, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging that the plaintiff’s complaint did not comply with the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), which is the state law outlining the standards for procedural requirements for a negligence claim against a government entity in the state of Georgia. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiff’s complaint did not give adequate notice to the defendant of the nature of the claim, as required under the GTCA. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Georgia property owners owe a duty to the public to maintain their property in a safe condition. Consequently, landowners can be held liable for damages when someone is injured as a result of an accident resulting from premises that are negligently designed or maintained. In a recent ruling, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a plaintiff who made such a claim after he slipped and fell while descending the stairs from a restaurant.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case sued the operator of a restaurant after suffering injuries when he fell in an attempt to descend the last step between the restaurant’s entrance landing and its parking lot. The plaintiff alleged that the last step presented an unreasonable hazard because there were no markings or handrail to indicate the presence of the final step. In the trial court, the defendant denied responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries, claiming that under Georgia law they could not be held liable because the plaintiff had successfully navigated the step on his way up the stairs before entering the restaurant, and therefore had knowledge of the hazard. The trial judge rejected the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed toward a trial. The defendant appealed.

The Georgia Court of Appeals acknowledged that the defendant’s theory of defense was applicable under state law, but upheld the trial court’s ruling allowing the case to proceed. The court explained that under Georgia law, a property owner can avoid liability for a slip and fall injury when a hazard which was previously navigated is a “static condition” that is readily discernible to a person exercising reasonable care for his own safety. The court agreed that the staircase landing which caused the plaintiff’s injuries was a static condition, however, they rejected the defendant’s claim that it was readily discernible as a matter of law. Specifically, the court noted that the step was not marked and that there was no railing or warning sign. Thus, the question of whether a person exercising reasonable care would have noticed the step must be decided by a jury at trial.

Recently, an appellate court reversed a lower court’s decision to grant the summary judgment motion of a property management in a Georgia slip-and-fall lawsuit. The case stems from an accident where a 60-year-old woman slipped and fell at her apartment complex. According to the facts as laid out by the court, the plaintiff was walking to get the mail when she tripped on an undetermined obstruction.

Evidently, the plaintiff sued the owner of the complex and the property management company under a premises liability theory. The trial court denied the owner’s motion for summary judgment but granted the property management company’s motion. The woman appealed the decision and argued that the property management company should be liable because they had sufficient control over the property.

Under Georgia law, owners and occupiers have specific statutory duties to the property they control. These individuals and entities must exercise “ordinary care in keeping the premises safe”. In certain instances, property management companies are considered independent contractors. However, these contractors may have the status of an occupier if they are in control of the property. In fact, in some cases, Georgia property management companies have the same duties as the actual owner of the property. The transfer of responsibility may lead to the owner not owing a duty to an injury victim if they surrender possession to the independent contractor.

On March 12, 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia slip-and-fall case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim against a security company was properly dismissed at the summary judgment stage. Ultimately, the court concluded that the property owner had a non-delegable duty to ensure the safety of its guests, and as a result, the defendants did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her spouse visited AmericasMart in downtown Atlanta to pick up a gift for a friend. The couple obtained their security badges without issue, but as the plaintiff walked through the security checkpoint, she tripped on a rubber mat that was under a table where the security officer sat. The plaintiff seriously injured her hip, requiring surgery and subsequent physical therapy. At the time, a security guard who was employed by a company that was contracted to provide security to AmericasMart.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against AmericasMart, the security company, as well as the security officer. The security company and the officer moved for summary judgment, claiming that they were not owners or occupiers of the area where the plaintiff fell, and that they owed her no duty of care. The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted their motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff filed an appeal.

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case discussing whether the lower court correctly limited the plaintiff’s closing argument by preventing her from arguing that the defendant grocery store destroyed video of the incident. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s closing argument was properly limited because she did not obtain an advance ruling on the issue.

The term spoliation refers to a party’s failure to preserve relevant evidence or a party’s destruction of evidence that it knows, or has reason to believe, will be relevant to an upcoming legal proceeding. If a court determines that a party spoliated evidence, there are a variety of possible sanctions, including an adverse inference instruction. An adverse inference instruction informs the jury that the spoliating party had an obligation to preserve evidence but failed to do so, and that the jurors may assume that had the evidence been presented, it would not have been favorable to the party that destroyed or failed to preserve it.

As explained in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff was shopping in the produce department at the defendant grocery store when a stack of boxes fell and crashed into her. The plaintiff was pushed into a display, and sustained a serious injury that worsened over time. The plaintiff later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the grocery store.

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