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Accident Waivers in Georgia Premises Liability Lawsuits

Property owners should take steps to make their property reasonably safe for those they’ve invited onto the property. However, sometimes property owners ask visitors to sign waivers regarding accidents they may have on the property in order to avoid liability. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the court considered a case in which the plaintiff sustained injuries during an event in which her daughter participated at the defendant’s facility. The defendant provided tumbling instruction, along with cheerleading team programs. It was hosting an exhibition of routines for parents on the day of the accident. The gym floor was covered with purple practice mats. There were two vendors there to promote services and goods.

The plaintiff’s daughter was part of a special needs team, which wasn’t a part of the defendant’s facility or teams, but rather a separate nonprofit that was allowed to practice in the facility. The special needs team was charged nothing for its use of the facility, but it was invited to be a part of the exhibition of routines. On the day of the accident, the special needs team performed later than was scheduled. Spectators whose children had yet to perform had to wait outside. Once they were let in, they were crammed together.

The plaintiff and her daughter couldn’t stay for the whole program after the special needs team performed. The mother went in search of her daughter. While walking towards her daughter’s team through the crowd, she fell from the mats about two feet to the concrete floor. Where she’d fallen hadn’t been demarcated with rope. After she fell, a facility employee called an ambulance. The hospital diagnosed her with four breaks that necessitated surgery and months of recovery.

The mother had been familiar with how the gym was laid out due to her daughters’ gymnastics practice. On the night of her accident, however, she saw the mats were placed in unfamiliar ways. The facility had required parents to sign releases that included warnings of potential hazards in the gym. The parents sued the defendant claiming negligence and loss of consortium. The defendant counterclaimed for breach of contract based on the medical release the mother had signed and also argued her claims were barred by the Georgia Recreational Property Act. It also filed for summary judgment.

The lower court agreed with the defendant and granted summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing it was a mistake for the lower court to conclude the claims were barred by a medical release form she’d signed months before. The appellate court reasoned that when the mother signed the release, she understood it applied to her and her daughter during their participation in events held at the gym. The mother argued the medical release only applied to her daughter’s participation in a temporary camp. However, the appellate court used the rules of contract construction to determine that the plain language set forth its applicability to all activities in which they engaged on the premises.

It also reasoned that the plaintiffs’ claims were prevented by the Recreational Property Act. The purpose of that law was to encourage landowners to make their property accessible by the public for recreational activities by restricting owners’ liability for them. In order to decide whether there is immunity under the Recreational Property Act, the court is required to decide the nature and scope of the landlord’s invitation to use the property. The analysis requires the court to look at the nature of the activity constituting use of the property and the nature of the property people were invited to use.

In this case, the plaintiffs accepted that the activity at issue was recreational. However, they argued that there was a material question of fact about the reason the defendant allowed their daughter to use the facility relating to whether the gym’s operation was recreational or commercial. The appellate court explained that the defendant didn’t charge the special needs team to use the facility and that the presence of vendors didn’t make a difference. Summary judgment was affirmed.

If you were harmed due to a dangerous property condition on someone else’s property, it’s important to retain counsel. You should call a premises liability attorney to discuss the viability of a premises liability lawsuit. Attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than two decades of experience representing those injured in Atlanta accidents. He represents clients throughout Georgia. Contact him at (404) 370-1000 or through our website.

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