Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Theory of Causation in Recent Georgia Personal Injury Case

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia personal injury case discussing the element of causation, as well as the type and quantity of evidence that a plaintiff must present to survive a defense motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence showing that the defendant’s actions caused her injuries. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a homeowner who hired the defendant to install a smoke detector system in her home. In the months after the installation, the plaintiff called the defendant several times because the system was not working. The last time the defendant was at the plaintiff’s home was November 2007.

In August 2008, the plaintiff was cooking on the stove when she went to lie on the couch. The plaintiff inadvertently nodded off, and after an estimated three or four minutes, she woke up to the smell of smoke. The plaintiff went into the kitchen, but because of the smoke, she was unsure whether the source of the smoke was the pan or the chicken that she was cooking. As the plaintiff turned the stove knob to the off position, she poured flour into the pan, in an attempt to smother the flame. The contents of the pan bubbled over onto her hand, causing serious burns. The smoke detector did not sound an alarm, and it was later determined that the smoke detector did not have a required piece installed.

The plaintiff filed a Georgia personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, arguing that the defendant’s negligence in failing to properly install the smoke detector system in her home resulted in her injuries. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff could not establish that the defendant’s negligence caused her injuries. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court explained that a defendant is entitled to summary judgment if they can show “an absence of evidence supporting at least one essential element of the plaintiff’s claim.” If a defendant is able to do so, the court went on to explain, the plaintiff “cannot rest on his pleadings, but must point to specific evidence that gives rise to a triable issue of fact.” In regard to the causation element, the court explained that causation consists of two elements:  cause in fact and proximate cause.

Here, the court explained that this case was the “rare circumstance” in which the defendant’s negligence was not the cause in fact of the plaintiff’s injuries. To prove that an event was the cause in fact of an injury, the plaintiff must show that, but for the event, the plaintiff would not have been injured. Here, the court held that the defendant’s actions in failing to properly install the smoke detector were not the cause in fact because there was no evidence presented that, had the smoke detector gone off, the plaintiff would have avoided injury. In so holding, the court determined that the plaintiff’s testimony stating that she would have been able to put the flame out safely was insufficient to give rise to a material dispute of fact.

Have You Been Injured?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia product liability lawsuit. At McAleer Law, we have extensive experience representing accident victims in all types of Georgia personal injury claims, including Georgia car accident claims, and we provide free consultations to all prospective clients. To learn more, call 404-622-5337 to schedule your free consultation today.