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Georgia Court Addresses “Hidden Hazard” in Premises Liability Case

Under Georgia law, property owners are under a legal duty to maintain the premises, including the “approaches,” in a condition free of unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the invited public. Depending on the circumstances, a person who is injured on another’s property may be able to seek damages for any pain, suffering, and losses sustained. In order to bring an action in a “slip and fall” case, one must plead and prove two items:  first, that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard, and second, that the plaintiff, acting with ordinary care, lacked knowledge of the hazard due to the defendant’s actions or to conditions under the defendant’s control. The law can be complicated. but an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area would be able to review your case and determine your potential right to compensation.

The outcome of a premises liability case will depend a great deal on the facts and circumstances surrounding the claim, as well as the adequacy of the case presented and argued. In a recent case, Henderson, et al. v. St. Paul Baptist Church (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the court of appeals reversed the lower court’s decision and allowed the plaintiff’s slip and fall case to go forward. Here, the Hendersons were visiting St. Paul Baptist Church as visiting pastors at the invitation of Amos Lee, Jr., St. Paul’s pastor. Lee directed the Hendersons to park their car behind his, on church property to the left of the building. As Mrs. Henderson got out of the car, she stepped in a hole and fell, fracturing her leg.

The Hendersons brought a claim against the Church for premises liability and loss of consortium. The Church moved for summary judgment, claiming that it could not be liable for Mrs. Henderson’s injuries because they occurred when she attempted to take a “short cut” to the side entrance of the church, instead of walking to the designated route to the front of the building. Lee had testified that the hole Mrs. Henderson fell in was a “trench” that was intentionally dug in order to keep newly planted shrubbery watered. That trench was not visible because it was covered in pine straw and leaves, and there was no indication or marking in any way. Lee admitted that he did not warn the Hendersons about the trench.

The trial court granted the Church’s motion for summary judgment. The Hendersons appealed, arguing that a factual question existed as to whether the Church failed to keep its premises safe and failed to warn the plaintiffs of a known, hidden hazard on its property. Under Georgia law, summary judgment is appropriate only when the evidence is “plain, palpable, and undisputed.” In this case, the court of appeals held that it was not and reversed the decision. The court ruled that the Hendersons presented enough evidence to enable a juror to conclude that the Church had actual or constructive knowledge of the trench in which Mrs. Henderson fell. Furthermore, there was evidence that Pastor Lee directed the plaintiffs to park in the area by the hazard, rather than walk on the designated approach to the main entrance of the church.

As a result, the plaintiffs will be permitted to present their premises liability case to a jury or trier of fact. This decision nicely illustrates the need to plead and argue one’s case in accordance with Georgia law.

If you have been injured on the property of another, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced injury attorney who would be able to evaluate your claim to determine whether and to what extent you would be able to recover for your injuries. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, representing individuals who have been injured in premises liability incidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

Related Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Failed to Show Existence of a Hazardous Condition in Slip-And-Fall Case

Parking Lot “Slip and Fall” Claim Against Property Owner Goes Forward

Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Premises Liability Damages Award For More Than $2.6 Million

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