Slip-and-fall negligence cases arise under many different sets of circumstances. Depending on the particular facts, a plaintiff who has been injured may or may not be entitled to a recovery. One aspect of liability concerns the relationship between the injured party and the entity or person who is allegedly at fault. According to Georgia law, a business owner owes a duty of ordinary care to its invitees. But courts have held that this non-delegable duty of care is not applicable to an independent contractor. While this may seem confusing, an experienced injury attorney would know precisely how the local laws will apply to your injury case. If you have been injured on another’s property, be sure to consult with an Atlanta injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.
In a recent negligence case, Davidson et al. v. Meticulously Clean Sweepers, LLC (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), plaintiff Nancy Davidson fell outside a “Dollar Tree” store, in a shopping center that was owned by three corporate entities, referred to here as “Rivergate.” After she was injured, the plaintiff and her husband brought an action against Dollar Tree, the manager of Dollar Tree, Rivergate, its property management company, and Meticulously Clean Sweepers (“MCS”) – an independent contractor that treated the area in question with a de-icing mixture the night before the plaintiff fell.
Relevant to this case is the fact that Rivergate contracted with MCS to provide sweeping services at the shopping center property. The agreement also stated that for an additional cost, MCS would “de-ice” the sidewalks and parking lot. MCS applied salt and sand to the property in accordance with the contract. The next day, the plaintiff was at the shopping center and fell on “black ice” as she stepped onto a ramp. The plaintiff ultimately settled with all of the parties except MCS, which then moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the plaintiff was not a third-party beneficiary of the de-icing contract between MCS and Rivergate, there was no evidence that MCS breached a duty of ordinary care, and there was no evidence that MCS had knowledge of the black ice where the plaintiff fell. The plaintiff appealed.
The court of appeals affirmed the decision, pointing out that under Georgia case law, an injured party may not recover as a “third-party beneficiary” for failure to perform a duty under a contract, unless it is clear from the language of the agreement that the parties meant to protect the plaintiff from physical injury. The court did not find any evidence to support such an intention. In fact, the express language of the contract between Rivergate and MCS specifically stated that no third parties are intended to benefit from the agreement.
And while the plaintiff also tried to allege that there was still a question of fact as to whether MCS negligently treated the area, the court disagreed. Under § 51-1-11, a third party would only have a right of action if the injury occurred independently of the contract. But here, the court held that there was no evidence that MCS failed to exercise reasonable care in performing its de-icing services.
The plaintiff apparently achieved some kind of a settlement with the other parties involved in the case. But as we can see from this case, she was not eligible to recover from MCS. In any slip-and-fall case, it is important to consult with a local injury attorney who can prepare your case in a manner to achieve the best possible result under the circumstances. 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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