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.”
The owner argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the plaintiff previously walked in the area, giving her knowledge of the danger. Further, the owner lacked knowledge of the hazard, because the root was a naturally-occurring object. However, the court found that these arguments do not support reversal. The court reasoned that the landscaping crew might not have noticed the root because it was not broken, and there is no evidence that the plaintiff traversed the area between the landscaping crew’s inspection and the accident. The fact that the plaintiff walked the area, does not preclude her recovery.
Next, the owner argued that he did not have actual knowledge of the danger. However, there are issues regarding whether he had constructive knowledge. A plaintiff may prove constructive knowledge by demonstrating that the defendant or their employee had an opportunity to correct the danger, or the danger existed for a length of time that it would have been removed if the owner conducted a proper inspection. Here, the plaintiff’s evidence could allow a jury to conclude that the defendant lacked a procedure to inspect the dirt area for dangers. Finally, the owner contends that he should not be liable because the root was a naturally-occurring object. However, the fact that an object was naturally-occurring, does not negate an owner’s duty to inspect the premises in every circumstance. Absent evidence that the defendant reasonably inspected the parking lot for defects and the root was a new defect which the owner did not have enough time to correct, and the court could not conclude that the owner complied with its duty to invitees to keep the parking lot safe.
Have You Suffered Injuries in a Georgia Slip and Fall?
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