Georgia premises liability laws are meant to protect plaintiffs who are injured when they encounter a dangerous condition on another person’s property, and the property owner had knowledge of the condition but failed to warn the plaintiff. This liability is fairly circumscribed and requires certain things to have first occurred. For instance, the defendant must be aware of the dangerous condition and fail to do anything about it. Likewise, the plaintiff must be unaware of the condition or have less knowledge of it than the defendant. When the plaintiff has equal or greater knowledge than the defendant, the claim can be thrown out, as illustrated in a recent Georgia Court of Appeals case.
In this case, C.C. brought a claim against TLC Millwork after she slipped and fell on TLC’s premises. At the time, C.C. was picking up an order for her work. When she entered the location, she noted that a spigot near the door was open and that water was pooling onto the ground. Since it was only 25 degrees out, the water was quickly turning to ice. When C.C. entered the store, she told the employee about the open spigot and the danger it created. The employee explained that it was open so that the pipes would not freeze, and there was an alternative door she could use to exit the store when she was done. The employee told C.C. not to mention the alternative door to anyone else because customers were not supposed to use it, and she might get fired.
When C.C. finished up her errands and was ready to leave, she attempted to use the alternative door, but it was locked, and she could not find a key. When she went back to find the employee who had previously helped her, the employee was tied up in a meeting. Rather than bother the employee, C.C. decided to leave through the front entrance. When she did, she slipped on the ice and fell, injuring herself. C.C. then sued TLC Millwork.
TLC Millwork quickly moved for summary judgment, arguing that C.C. had at least as much knowledge of the dangerous condition as they did, and, on that basis, TLC Millwork could not be held liable. The trial court denied the motion, and TLC Millwork appealed.
On appeal, TLC Millwork noted that under Georgia law, in order to establish a premises liability claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and that the plaintiff did not have knowledge of the hazard. Here, it was clear that C.C. had knowledge of the hazard because she reported it to TLC Millwork staff. C.C. responded, however, that she had no choice but to leave through the front door because the alternative exit was not open, and thus she was coerced to use the unsafe exit.
The Court of Appeals did not accept C.C.’s coercion argument. It held that when a plaintiff has notice of a risk but proceeds to enter the hazardous space anyway, he or she has assumed the risk of injury, and the property owner cannot be held liable. While coercion is a defense to assumption of risk, it requires an element of force or threat, neither of which was present here. C.C. could have waited for the employee to finish her meeting and unlock the alternative exit or could have sought the assistance of a different employee. She was not forced to leave through the front door – she chose to do so. In light of those circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court had improperly denied the motion for summary judgment and that summary judgment was appropriate here because C.C. had at least as much knowledge, if not more, of the hazardous ice than TLC Millwork did.
Premises liability laws are meant to protect plaintiffs who are injured when a property owner fails to warn of a dangerous condition or maintain a property so that there are no dangerous conditions. They are not, however, meant to create a claim for every individual who may be injured on another party’s property. When an individual sees a hazard or risk but proceeds anyway, premises liability laws hold that the plaintiff is responsible for his or her own actions.
If you have recently been injured as a result of a hazard on another party’s property of which you were not aware, you should speak with a premises liability attorney about your options. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than 20 years of experience representing clients who have been injured in accidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. 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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