In most personal injury lawsuits, whether the claims arise from a car accident or a fall on another’s property, the likelihood of achieving a monetary recovery will depend on several items. First, the underlying facts and circumstances will play a significant role in whether the injured party is likely to recover. Secondly, the plaintiff must know and understand the particular laws and procedural requirements that must be met in order to successfully bring claims for damages. And thirdly, it is extremely important that the injured party contact an experienced attorney who has handled such cases within the local Atlanta area, who can assess the facts and prepare a strategy appropriate for the unique circumstances of your case.
In a recent slip-and-fall case, Smith v. NT Nails, LLC (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), the plaintiff brought an action against a nail salon for personal injuries she allegedly sustained after falling on a wet floor at the salon. The salon moved for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff “knowingly and voluntarily” made the choice to walk across a floor that had been recently mopped. Plaintiff appealed the decision, arguing that summary judgment was inappropriate because, although she was aware of the hazard, she had no choice but to walk on the wet floor in order to pay and leave the salon. Essentially, plaintiff argued that the trial court should not have found that she “assumed the risk” of injury.
Under Georgia case law, a defendant may successfully defend against a plaintiff’s injury claim if it can be established that plaintiff: 1) had actual knowledge of the danger, 2) understood and appreciated the risks in connection with the danger, and 3) voluntarily exposed oneself to the risks. An important element of this standard relates to the plaintiff’s act, whether it was the result of a deliberate choice. To further elaborate, in order to assert the defense of assumption of risk, there must be no “coercion,” that is, the plaintiff must have chosen a course of action with complete knowledge of the danger and with free choice whether to act or not.
Plaintiff essentially claimed that she did not have a choice, that she was “coerced” into exposing herself to the risk of walking across a wet floor. According to her testimony, she was the last person in the salon at the end of the business day and was asked to pay as soon as she was finished with her services. The employees were cleaning and “rushing” her out of the establishment. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision granting the summary judgment motion, pointing out that the kind of pressure that plaintiff described is “not coercion” sufficient to overcome a defense of assumption of risk. The court relied on case law to support its conclusion that there were no substantiating facts to support her claim that she was forced to walk across the recently mopped floor. There was no testimony that the salon employees told her that she must leave or that they took any other action to indicate that she was required to walk across the hazard.
Interestingly enough, two of the judges dissented from this opinion, concluding that they would have sent the issue to the jury for its determination. Under these facts, the dissenters concluded that a legitimate question existed as to whether plaintiff had a reasonable alternative to walking on the wet floor at that time. This case, and the fact that two judges dissented from the opinion, illustrates the complicated nature of personal injury cases and how the facts of any accident can dramatically change the outcome of the proceedings. An experienced injury attorney would best be able to assess your case and identify your avenues for possible relief. 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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