Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

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.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit discussing whether an apartment complex could be held liable for the death of a resident. Ultimately, the court concluded that the apartment complex’s failure to install balcony railings of sufficient height was not excused based on the complex’s “grandfather” status under the local building codes.

According to the court’s opinion, a man lived on a third-floor apartment in the defendant apartment complex with his wife and child. One day, the man was outside of a first-floor apartment drinking beers with some fellow residents. The man’s wife went to bed at 10:00 that evening, and at one point in the evening, the man returned to the apartment to get a shirt. However, the next morning, the man was found dead, 18 feet below the rear balcony of his apartment.

Evidently, when police officers arrived on the scene, they noticed that the rear balcony railing was “shorter than normal” and measured only 29 inches tall. Law enforcement determined that the man fell to his death and that no foul play was involved. The man’s blood-alcohol content was .265.

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.

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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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case requiring the court to determine whether the owner of an auto repair shop could be held liable for the actions of a mechanic who leased a portion of the shop from the owner. Ultimately, the court concluded that the owner’s duty to safely maintain the shop was non-delegable, and thus the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff took his car to a repair shop that was owned by the defendant. The defendant leased a portion of his shop to another mechanic. The agreement required that the mechanic obtain liability insurance and also stated that the mechanic would hold the defendant “harmless from any liability or damage, whether caused by [the mechanic’s] operations or otherwise.” The mechanic never obtained liability insurance coverage.

Evidently, the mechanic greeted the plaintiff, and agreed to look at his car. The mechanic pulled the plaintiff’s car into one of the shop’s bays, and placed it up on a lift. The mechanic discovered an oil leak and then lowered the car. However, as the vehicle reached the ground, it crushed the plaintiff’s foot.

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In a recent Georgia premises liability case, a court discussed a store’s obligation to maintain the area immediately around the entranceway into the building. Ultimately, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case after finding that store’s parking lot was not included in the area that the store was required to maintain.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff had just finished shopping at a Big Lots store and was walking back to her car when she slipped and fell after stepping in a wet substance in the store’s parking lot. The plaintiff was injured as a result of the fall and filed a Georgia premises liability lawsuit against Big Lots, arguing that the store was responsible for keeping its parking lot free of hazards.

The evidence presented showed that the plaintiff’s fall occurred about 45 feet from the door to the store. Additionally, the Big Lots was located in a shopping center that was owned by a third-party company, which was in charge of maintaining the parking lots. After the plaintiff fell, the store manager came out to clean up the spill, explaining, “if there’s something that needs to be handled immediately … we would take care of that ourselves temporarily until someone could get there … but the parking lot has always been handled by the landlord.”

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant due to the fact that the plaintiff waited too long to file her case. In deciding the case, the court had to consider whether a clause in the residential lease between the two parties that limited the amount of time the plaintiff had to file a lawsuit against the defendant was enforceable. Ultimately, the court concluded that the clause was enforceable, and thus, the plaintiff’s case was time-barred.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell after stepping on a curb that crumbled when she stepped on it. The curb was located in a common area in the apartment complex where the plaintiff lived. Approximately two years after she fell, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant corporation that owned and operated the complex.

Prior to moving into her apartment, both the plaintiff and a representative of the defendant signed a residential lease agreement. Contained in that agreement was a clause whereby the plaintiff agreed that any claims against the defendant would be brought within one year. The normal statute of limitations for a personal injury case in Georgia is two years. The defendant argued that the lease agreement was binding and that the plaintiff was required to have brought her case within one year of her injury.

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