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.