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Georgia Court Allows Trip-and-Fall Case to Go Forward, Citing “Spoliation of Evidence”

Personal injury cases come in many forms, but in all negligence actions, the injured party must plead and prove a variety of factors, depending on the nature of the lawsuit. In slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall cases, also known as premises liability claims, the plaintiff must show that he or she sustained injuries on the defendant’s property due to the property owner’s failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Essentially, the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant acted in a negligent manner, and that such conduct proximately caused his or her injuries. In order to successfully bring a premises liability action against a property owner, it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area, someone who is fully aware of the local laws and rules affecting such cases.

In many premises liability lawsuits, the defendant – the owner of the property – will bring a motion for summary judgment in its favor. Under Georgia law, courts must determine whether the moving party has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the facts as presenteda warrant judgment as a matter of law. In many cases, however, courts will refuse to grant a summary judgment motion, determining that there are questions of fact that must be determined by a jury. This affords the plaintiff an opportunity to present evidence supporting his or her negligence claims.

In a recent trip-and-fall case, Hill v. Kone, Inc. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), as the plaintiff entered an elevator at the building where she worked, she tripped, fell, and hit her head against a metal railing at the back of the elevator. The plaintiff went to the hospital, where she was treated for her injuries. On the day of the incident, a technician from Kone, Inc., the elevator maintenance company, had spent hours performing maintenance work on several of the building’s elevators. After the incident, the Georgia Department of Labor sent a representative to inspect the elevator, who found no defects during the inspection. While the plaintiff alleged that she tripped on elevator number four, the record shows that the inspector examined elevator number three.

The plaintiff brought an action against the building owner and its elevator maintenance company to recover for her injuries. She claimed that the defendant failed to maintain the elevator in accordance with the company’s maintenance manual. The defendant elevator company moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that summary judgment was improper because there were outstanding factual issues regarding whether the proper elevator was taken out of service and inspected under Section 8-2-106 of the state code.

Under Georgia case law, the failure to comply with this statute, whether intentional or not, constitutes “spoliation of evidence,” effectively creating the presumption that the evidence would have been detrimental to the “spoliator.” Under these circumstances, an award of summary judgment would be deemed inappropriate at this stage of the proceedings. The court of appeals agreed with the plaintiff and reversed, pointing out that the record of evidence contained a factual dispute as to whether the statute was complied with. The plaintiff will now be entitled to present further evidence to support her claim for damages.

A plaintiff who is injured on another’s property may be entitled to recover for any suffering and losses sustained. To find out if you are entitled to a recovery, it is essential that you contact an experienced injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident occurs. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience 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.

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