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.