When a plaintiff sues a defendant about a hazardous condition, he or she must allege that the defendant had knowledge of the condition and failed to address it or failed to warn others. Likewise, the plaintiff must also show that he or she did not have full knowledge of the danger before encountering it. While defendants may be held liable for injuries that occur on their property due to dangers of which they were aware, but a plaintiff was not, they usually cannot be held liable for injuries when a plaintiff knows of a dangerous condition and proceeds anyway. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at when a plaintiff has such “superior or equal” knowledge to that of a defendant.
In Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation, Travis was a truck driver employed by Petroleum Transport Company. He delivered gas to gas stations around the country. In 2011, he was delivering gas to QuikTrip Corporation, at a station managed by Lloyd Thompson. While delivering the gas, he was hit by another driver and suffered serious injuries. He sued the driver, Thompson, and QuikTrip for his injuries. Travis quickly settled with the driver but maintained premises liability claims against Thompson and QuikTrip. He argued that the gasoline delivery process at QuikTrip was unnecessarily dangerous, since it often required drivers to kneel down in the middle of traffic at the station in order to measure gas tank levels. Drivers had repeatedly reported these dangers to QuikTrip, but it did nothing to address them.
In response to Travis’ claims, Thompson and QuikTrip filed a motion for summary judgment. They argued that Travis had equal or superior knowledge of the dangerous conditions in the parking lot because he had delivered there multiple times, and thus they were not liable for his injuries. The trial court granted the motion, and Travis appealed.
In Georgia, a property owner can be held liable for a dangerous condition on their property if the visitor to the property is not aware of the condition and is not warned of it. A defense to liability arises when the property owner can show that the plaintiff had equal or superior knowledge of the condition. Here, Travis testified that he knew about the dangerous nature of delivering gas at QuikTrip and had almost been hit in the past. He also testified that he and other drivers had reported these dangers to QuikTrip, but QuikTrip had refused to change their policies or procedures for delivery. According to Travis, drivers who failed to deliver gas according to policy, including kneeling down on the ground in a busy parking lot, were often fired on the spot. For this reason, Travis continued to deliver gas according to the policy.
Based on these facts, the Court of Appeals held that Travis did have at least equal, if not superior, knowledge of the dangerous condition on QuikTrip’s property. While this would normally preclude Travis from winning on his claims, the Court of Appeals also noted that here, Travis’ decision to go onto the property and encounter the dangerous condition was not voluntary. Instead, he was obligated to do so by policy. Georgia courts have held that when a plaintiff is coerced onto the property or into encountering a known danger by a defendant, the defendant cannot claim the defense of equal or superior knowledge, since the plaintiff essentially had no choice but to deal with the dangerous condition. Here, since Travis risked losing his job if he did not deliver the gas as QuikTrip required, the Court of Appeals held that QuikTrip and Thompson were not entitled to rely on their defense, and the motion for summary judgment should be denied. The Court of Appeals reversed.
If you are a plaintiff who has been hurt due to a dangerous condition on a property, it is important to understand that if you knew of the condition and voluntarily entered the property anyway, you may be held responsible for your own injuries. However, if you were essentially forced or coerced onto the property, you may still have a strong claim. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than 20 years of experience assisting individuals who have been injured in premises liability accidents in the Atlanta area. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
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