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

Many premises liability causes of action are based on a plaintiff’s “slip and fall” or “trip and fall” claim. The Georgia Supreme Court has identified two elements that a plaintiff must plead and prove in order to bring a viable slip and fall claim: 1) that the defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and 2) the plaintiff, despite exercising ordinary care, had no knowledge of the hazard due to the defendant’s actions or to conditions under the defendant’s control. While the basic concept of liability may seem straightforward, the particular facts of each case will determine the ultimate outcome.  An experienced Atlanta premises liability attorney will be able to quickly identify the critical components of your case to determine eligibility for compensation.

In a recent case, Kroger Company v. Schoenhoff, Ga. Ct. App. (2013), Steve and Melanie Schoenhoff (the “plaintiffs”) filed a personal injury and loss of consortium action against the Kroger Company (the “defendant”) after Melanie slipped and fell while she was shopping at a Kroger store in Georgia.  As Melanie was walking through the floral area of the store, she slipped and fell in a clear liquid, identified as water, in front of the floral display case. Melanie’s testimony revealed that she was watching where she was walking, but did not see anything on the floor until after she fell.  The evidence also showed that Kroger had no actual knowledge of the water on the floor before the incident.  The issue at trial was whether the store had “constructive knowledge” of the water on the floor in the location where Melanie slipped and fell.

There are certain ways that a plaintiff may show that a defendant had constructive knowledge: 1) if an employee was in the immediate area where the fall occurred and had the chance to fix the hazardous condition before the fall, or 2) if the hazardous condition had existed for a sufficient length of time that it would have been discovered and remedied had the property or business owner exercised reasonable care in inspecting the premises.  Here, the jury found in favor of plaintiffs, awarding Melanie over $2.6 million in damages, and Steve Schoenhoff $150,000 for his loss of consortium claim.

On appeal, defendant claimed that it was entitled to a directed verdict (where the court takes a case away from the jury and substitutes its own judgment for the jury’s) because plaintiffs failed to show that it had actual or constructive knowledge of the liquid on the floor.  The court of appeals affirmed the decision, noting that the existence of constructive knowledge is a matter for the jury to determine, as long as there is evidence from which it may be inferred.

The court found that plaintiffs provided the following evidence: that water dripping on the floor in the floral area was a recurrent problem, defendant had in the past put mats on the floor to catch the water (and did not do so on the day Melanie slipped and fell), and it also did not inspect for anticipated spills in the floral department on that day.

Of course each case will depend on the facts presented and proven.  If you are injured in a slip and fall (or trip and fall) case, it is important that you consult with an experienced Atlanta injury attorney as soon as possible after the incident to determine your right to a recovery.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall or trip and fall case, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Atlanta injury attorney as soon as possible. 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.

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