Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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A plaintiff’s own knowledge of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property in Atlanta can affect the outcome of a premises liability case. In a recent Georgia appellate case, the plaintiff appealed from a lower court’s granting of summary judgment to a store and the store’s manager. She had sued the store and the manager after tripping and falling over a raised metal part of a cart corral in the parking lot.

The case arose when the plaintiff was leaving the store and putting her groceries in the car. She pushed her cart to the corral and, while leaving it, caught her foot in the crossbar of the corral, resulting in her falling and breaking her arm. The crossbar usually lies flat on the asphalt, but it was raised on one side at about 1 1/8 inches because a delivery truck had once hit the corral.

After the fall, she was certain she’d tripped on the raised portion of the crossbar because she felt her foot catch, and when she looked back, she saw the raised portion of the crossbar.  The plaintiff sued the store and the store manager, claiming they knew about the state of the corral and negligently failed to maintain it or warn her about the hazardous condition. The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the state of the corral was an open and obvious condition. They also argued that she’d successfully gone through the air before she later tripped and that she hadn’t used reasonable care.

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Whether you can hold a property owner accountable for premises liability can depend partly on your reason for being on the property, whether you’re an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. In a recent Georgia premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff was hurt when she tripped and fell down the stairs in a man’s backyard. The defendant had allowed his friend to have a birthday party at his house. The friend wanted to sit on the back porch by the pool to listen to music at the birthday party. There were brick stairs in the backyard, which had tiers. He’d purchased the property 20 years before, and the stairs had been there when he bought it.

The plaintiff was a friend of the woman having her birthday at the defendant’s house. When the plaintiff got to the house, she walked on a path to the back of the defendant’s house and arrived at some brick stairs leading to the area by the pool. She claimed that the lights were dim in that area.

As the plaintiff walked down the stairs, she looked forward, but not down. Her foot hit something and this caused her to trip. Later when she was being carried into the house after the fall, she noticed that there was an orange extension cord lying over three or four stairs where she’d tripped. However, she hadn’t seen the extension cord before falling and didn’t know who placed the cord there or how long it had been there.

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Generally, a business owner owes a nondelegable duty of care to an invitee for the purposes of a Georgia premises liability case. However, this nondelegable duty  is inapplicable to an independent contractor. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the plaintiff claimed that a company was responsible for reporting dangers in a common area where he fell in an open water meter and thereby spilled hot oil on himself. The plaintiff was told to drain hot oil from a fryer at the restaurant where he worked. There was a problem with the filtration system inside the restaurant, and so the plaintiff drained the oil into a vessel and took it out of the restaurant and into the shopping mall where the restaurant was located.

In the back lot, he stepped into an uncovered water meter opening. He spilled the oil onto himself and suffered third degree burns on his body and face. He sued the restaurant, its owners, and the property owners on a theory that the defendants had failed to appropriately inspect and maintain the premises. One of the property owners filed a third party complaint against another company claiming it was responsible for maintaining the common area of the shopping center based on a service agreement. The plaintiff amended his complaint to add a claim against the company.

The lower court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff’s employers since workers’ compensation barred his lawsuit. His claims against the property owner stayed pending. The property owner had entered into a contract with a company to sweep the grounds of the shopping mall and report problems. The agreement specified that even if the company adhered to special instructions, they wouldn’t relieve him of the sole responsibility to keep safe and efficient conditions at the property. The company agreed it was familiar with performing all the work necessary to fully adhere to the agreement and would assume responsibility and liability for all services.

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Can a repairman hired as an independent contractor hold a property owner liable for injuries sustained on the property being repaired? Can his family recover wrongful death damages when those injuries are fatal? In a recent Georgia wrongful death decision, the court considered a situation in which the decedent had been changing a light bulb on 30-foot light pole at an apartment complex when the pole broke at the base, which resulted in him falling and experiencing fatal injuries. The minor children and the administratrix of the decedent’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit based on his fall and premises liability against the owner and manager of the apartment complex. Summary judgment was granted for the property owners. The plaintiffs appealed.

The case arose when the defendant owner bought the apartment complex and contracted with a property manager to manage it. The complex included both apartments and a recreational sports court that was lit by four light poles. The pole in question was around 30 feet tall and at the top of the four poles were crossbars that had light fixtures on the ends of them. Steel plates attached to the concrete pads were the site at which poles were bolted. On the other end of the poles they were touching soil that may have eroded away from the time the poles were installed.

The decedent had been helping out another man make repairs at the apartment complex for two years. The man the decedent was working with put together a proposal to replace four light bulbs and also included the cost of a rented forklift. The local businesses didn’t have a forklift available to rent, so when replacing the light bulbs, the man decided to connect part of one ladder to an extension ladder. Later on, the man was asked to put in a bid again, but reduced his price because the property management company didn’t want to pay for the forklift.

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Slip and fall litigation in Georgia often turns on the question of whether a dangerous condition was created by a property owner, or whether the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and made appropriate repairs or offered warnings.

In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a plaintiff slipped and fell while getting out of his car at a gas station. He sued the owner of the gas station. The lower court granted the owner’s summary judgment motion, determining there wasn’t any evidence of a dangerous condition at the gas station and deciding he wasn’t entitled to a spoliation presumption based on the owner’s inability to produce a surveillance recording of the gas station on the day of the fall.

The evidence showed it rained on the day of the fall. At the time he fell, however, the rain had stopped. The plaintiff went with his wife and pulled up next to a gas station pump. He didn’t observe any liquid on the concrete, but when he got out of his car, he slipped on what he believed was a wet, slippery foreign substance. Afterward, his clothes were wet. He couldn’t figure out the nature of the substance that made his clothes wet and didn’t look at the ground to figure out what triggered the fall. Neither did his wife.

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Georgia premises liability laws are meant to protect plaintiffs who are injured when they encounter a dangerous condition on another person’s property, and the property owner had knowledge of the condition but failed to warn the plaintiff. This liability is fairly circumscribed and requires certain things to have first occurred. For instance, the defendant must be aware of the dangerous condition and fail to do anything about it. Likewise, the plaintiff must be unaware of the condition or have less knowledge of it than the defendant. When the plaintiff has equal or greater knowledge than the defendant, the claim can be thrown out, as illustrated in a recent Georgia Court of Appeals case.

In this case, C.C. brought a claim against TLC Millwork after she slipped and fell on TLC’s premises. At the time, C.C. was picking up an order for her work. When she entered the location, she noted that a spigot near the door was open and that water was pooling onto the ground. Since it was only 25 degrees out, the water was quickly turning to ice.  When C.C. entered the store, she told the employee about the open spigot and the danger it created. The employee explained that it was open so that the pipes would not freeze, and there was an alternative door she could use to exit the store when she was done. The employee told C.C. not to mention the alternative door to anyone else because customers were not supposed to use it, and she might get fired.

When C.C. finished up her errands and was ready to leave, she attempted to use the alternative door, but it was locked, and she could not find a key. When she went back to find the employee who had previously helped her, the employee was tied up in a meeting. Rather than bother the employee, C.C. decided to leave through the front entrance. When she did, she slipped on the ice and fell, injuring herself. C.C. then sued TLC Millwork.

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Many negligence cases turn on the question of whether a defendant, like a property owner, had sufficient actual knowledge of a hazard on his or her property, such that something should have been done to correct it. For instance, a plaintiff may allege that the defendant saw the hazard or that the hazard was reported directly to the property owner. While evidence often focuses on actual notice, it is important to remember that actual notice is not the only standard for liability. Property owners can also be held liable if they had constructive notice, or should have known that a hazard existed. A recent case in the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates this standard.

In this Georgia personal injury case, P.D. sued Rainbow Stores, USA, after she stepped on an anti-theft sensor pin while visiting a store in Georgia. The pin was on the floor while P.D. was shopping and pierced her sandal when she stepped on it, leading to nerve damage in her foot. At the time of the injury, there were multiple employees on the store floor, some of whom were attaching sensor pins to pieces of clothing. The evidence uncovered during discovery showed that neither P.D. nor the other employees noticed the sensor pin at the time that P.D. stepped on it, so they did not have actual knowledge of the hazard. Based on these facts, the trial court granted Rainbow’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. P.D. appealed.

On appeal, P.D. argued that while Rainbow did not have actual knowledge of the hazard, it did have constructive knowledge. P.D. pointed to testimony establishing that shoplifting was a very serious problem at Rainbow and that sensor pins were regularly attached to all clothing at the store. Employees were permitted to attach sensor pins in the back stockroom or on the store floor, and the company was aware that sensor pins falling on the floor of the store, where they could pose a danger to customers, was a problem. This happened due to employee errors and efforts by potential shoplifters to pry the sensors off clothes and discard them on the ground. To try to protect against this problem, Rainbow instructed its employees to sweep the floors each morning and each evening at closing.

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When a plaintiff sues a defendant about a hazardous condition, he or she must allege that the defendant had knowledge of the condition and failed to address it or failed to warn others. Likewise, the plaintiff must also show that he or she did not have full knowledge of the danger before encountering it. While defendants may be held liable for injuries that occur on their property due to dangers of which they were aware, but a plaintiff was not, they usually cannot be held liable for injuries when a plaintiff knows of a dangerous condition and proceeds anyway. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at when a plaintiff has such “superior or equal” knowledge to that of a defendant.

In Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation, Travis was a truck driver employed by Petroleum Transport Company. He delivered gas to gas stations around the country. In 2011, he was delivering gas to QuikTrip Corporation, at a station managed by Lloyd Thompson. While delivering the gas, he was hit by another driver and suffered serious injuries. He sued the driver, Thompson, and QuikTrip for his injuries. Travis quickly settled with the driver but maintained premises liability claims against Thompson and QuikTrip. He argued that the gasoline delivery process at QuikTrip was unnecessarily dangerous, since it often required drivers to kneel down in the middle of traffic at the station in order to measure gas tank levels. Drivers had repeatedly reported these dangers to QuikTrip, but it did nothing to address them.

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In states around the country, including Georgia, property owners owe individuals who come onto their property a basic duty to protect them from harm.  This means that property owners cannot knowingly maintain harmful or dangerous conditions on their property, such as broken railings or deep holes, that put the public at risk. But what about circumstances in which it is not clear that the property owner is aware the dangerous condition exists? In certain circumstances, the owner can be held liable for conditions he or she should have known existed, but owners will not automatically be held liable for an unknown harm just because it caused an injury.

In Youngblood v. All American Quality Foods, Inc., Ms. Youngblood was injured after she slipped and fell in a puddle of water that had formed at a grocery store. She was injured in the accident and sued All American Quality Foods, also known as Food Depot, for her injuries. She argued that Food Depot had a duty to use ordinary care in keeping its grocery stores safe for customers. In response, Food Depot moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no notice that the water puddle existed and could not reasonably have prevented it from causing Ms. Youngblood’s injuries.  The trial court agreed.  Ms. Youngblood appealed.

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Under Georgia law, an owner or occupier of land owes a duty to “invitees” to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe. An invitee is someone who is on the property, by express or implied invitation, for a lawful purpose. Courts have reviewed what it means to exercise “ordinary care” under the statute and have determined that the standard varies depending on the circumstances. Each case is different. One court has determined, however, that in order for one’s conduct to be deemed negligent, it must be unreasonable in light of the recognizable risk of harm. Since each case is unique, it is important to discuss the particular facts and circumstances of your claim with an experienced Atlanta injury attorney – someone who is fully familiar with the local laws applicable to the case.

In a recent premises liability case, McDonald v. West Point Food Mart, Inc. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), the plaintiff brought an action against the defendant-convenient store for injuries she suffered after tripping over a case of beer on the floor behind her at the check out counter. According to the facts, the store was crowded when the plaintiff made a purchase at the store counter. As she turned away from the counter to exit the store, she stepped back and fell. A witness provided affidavit testimony that the customer behind the plaintiff in the line placed a case of beer on the floor while waiting in line to pay. The witness noticed the plaintiff trip over the case of beer and fall.

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