In a recent Georgia personal injury action, the plaintiff sued the defendant, who worked for an electrical services company, when she fell on her as they walked down a staircase in her home. The plaintiff had asked the company for electrical services. Its two employees, one of whom was the defendant, met her to inspect her water heater and heater in her basement. There were windows in the basement that provided some lighting, but there was no direct lighting on the stairs.
The plaintiff was wearing clogs with two and a half inch heels. The staircase had a preconstruction step and a split platform. The plaintiff told the electric company employees to take care because there wasn’t a handrail. The defendant wasn’t worried about the lack of handrail and used her left hand to sweep the wall and keep balance. The plaintiff walked down first, the defendant walked behind her, with another electric company employee bringing up the rear. However, as the defendant came to the split platform, she fell and knocked the plaintiff down. She fell on top of the plaintiff on the concrete floor of the basement.
The plaintiff was taken to the hospital. The defendant testified she didn’t know what caused her fall, but later she told the plaintiff she fell simply because she lost her balance. The defendant completed an accident report that stated she fell because of the design of the premises and she hadn’t paid attention to footing. She photographed the scene later and decided she’d lost her balance because her shoe heel had passed through a gap in the staircase. However, the staircase passed the County’s inspection.
In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged the employee was negligent and the electric company had negligently hired, trained and supervised her, and should have imputed liability. The defendants answered jointly and filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. The lower court reasoned the plaintiff hadn’t showed the defendants owed her a duty or that they breached it.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the lower court made a mistake in determining the defendant didn’t owe a duty to use ordinary care while going down the stairs. The appellate court agreed with her. It explained that a plaintiff needs to show certain elements to establish negligence: (1) duty, (2) departure from the duty, (3) injury, and (4) a causal relationship between breach and injury. The threshold issue is the legal question of whether the defendant owes a legal duty and the nature of that duty. If there’s no duty, there can be no negligence.
The appellate court further reasoned that there were no premises liability questions at issue. Liability can only arise in a premises liability case if an injury is caused by a dangerous property condition over which the premises owner has a degree of control. In this case, the plaintiff claimed her injuries were caused by the defendant falling on top of her. She argued that there was a duty for the defendant to use reasonable care while walking in order to avoid collision with others. The court agreed with the plaintiff that the fact the accident happened in a private residence rather than a public place didn’t change the analysis of care. In this case, the defendant had referred to the possibility her fall was caused by her own lack of attention to footing. From that, a jury could infer she’d breached her duty to walk prudently to avoid collision with the plaintiff. The appellate court reversed the summary judgment order.
If you were harmed due to another’s negligence in Atlanta, it’s important to retain counsel. You should call a personal injury 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.