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Denial of Motion Leads to Appeal in Georgia Premises Liability Lawsuit Involving Fall from College Dorm Bed

When a Georgia property owner doesn’t take reasonable care with regard to the risk of injury to people he’s invited onto the property, he can be held accountable. However, he can’t be held accountable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions that are open and obvious to visitors. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a university appealed the denial of summary judgment in a premises liability lawsuit.

The case arose when the plaintiff, a young woman, moved into her dorm room to start her freshman year. Her room included two lofted beds. One of the beds was higher than the other bed. By the time the woman got to her room, her roommate had already chosen the lower bed. The plaintiff wanted to lower her bed to be the same height as her roommate’s and submitted an online request to the university housing department. The request wasn’t answered.

Instead, because there was no ladder, the plaintiff had to step on her desk to climb onto the bed. She and her roommate rearranged the room so that they were both satisfied with it. After that, the plaintiff didn’t follow up on lowering the bed because she liked the new arrangement. After coming home from a Halloween party where she’d been drinking, she felt tipsy and went to bed, where she fell asleep. Her next memory was of falling out of her lofted bed. She blacked out and woke up on her back on the floor. Her roommate was standing over her asking if she was okay. As a result of the fall, she suffered serious injuries that required her to stay in the ICU and undergo surgery.

Because of the nature of her injuries, she had to medically withdraw from her classes at the university. She registered for the next semester before withdrawing again because of a severe concussion and doing poorly as a result of her concentration difficulties. For the short period in which she came back to the dorm, her lofted bed was lowered to the same height as her roommate’s. She installed a bedrail at her own expense.

She sued the university, claiming its negligence in not installing safety rails on the bed was the legal cause of the serious and permanent injuries she sustained when she fell out of the bed. She argued that the university knew there was a specific risk of falls from lofted beds because of similar accidents at other schools that were part of the University System of Georgia. The university filed a motion for summary judgment, which the lower court denied. The university moved for an interlocutory appeal.

On appeal, the university argued that the lower court had made a mistake in denying its summary judgment motion on the grounds that the lofted bed was an open and obvious condition for which it shouldn’t be liable. The appellate court agreed.

In order to win a premises liability lawsuit in Georgia, a plaintiff needs to show that: (1) an owner or proprietor knew or had reason to know of a danger and (2) the plaintiff didn’t know of the danger in spite of using ordinary care. Property owners or occupiers aren’t expected to ensure invitees’ safety; you can’t hold a property owner accountable for the mere fact of a fall. Rather, liability accrues where a property owner has superior knowledge of a condition that may leave an invitee vulnerable to an unreasonable risk of injury. The plaintiff’s knowledge of a particular danger determines whether she can win a premises liability lawsuit, not just her knowledge of generally dangerous conditions. Even if a defendant knows of an alleged dangerous condition, she can’t recover for an open and obvious danger.

In this case, there was no dispute about whether the university knew or should have known about the lofted bed. However, the plaintiff had equal knowledge the lofted bed didn’t have guardrails and was lifted off the ground. She’d slept there for three months before her fall. She’d even asked for the bed to be lowered. The appellate court found that this showed the lofted bed was an open and obvious condition she actually knew about and that the danger of falling off the bed could be avoided by using reasonable care.

The appellate court held that the lower court had made a mistake in denying the university’s motion for summary judgment since the lofted bed was an open and obvious condition.

If you were injured because of a dangerous property condition on another’s property, it’s important to hire an experienced premises liability attorney to talk about the viability of a 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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