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Injury from a Defective Ladder at a Georgia Jobsite

It can be difficult to trace and prove liability if you are injured while using someone else’s tools on another’s property in Atlanta. Sometimes a defendant brings a motion for summary judgment and it is crucial to retain an experienced attorney soon after being injured so that all appropriate evidence can be gathered to build your case. In a recent Georgia appellate case, a plaintiff sued a contractor after falling from a ladder that was allegedly defective. The lower court denied the contractor’s motion for summary judgment, in which it claimed the plaintiff hadn’t come forward with proof to generate a jury question about whether it had actual or constructive knowledge of the ladder’s supposedly defective condition or that it owed the contractor a duty to give a safe working environment. The contractor also argued that undisputed proof showed the plaintiff hadn’t used ordinary care for his own safety.

The contractor reportedly had a single owner and no other employees. The owner would subcontract most jobs his company had been hired to perform. The case arose when a company hired the contractor to repair a damaged wall at a cell phone store. This job was contracted to another, and that subcontractor hired the plaintiff and another man to help him. At their depositions, the plaintiff and other man testified that before they went to the job at the cell phone store, they stopped at the subcontractor’s workshop to pick up materials to do the job. The subcontractor put items into the trailer. These items included the ladder; there were no other ladders inside the trailer. They all drove with the trailer for 3 hours to get to the job site.

The men started work at the Verizon store at night once the store closed. The men took the ladder into the store from the trailer. Two of the men used the ladder without a problem, but neither went higher than the second run. One of the men checked to make sure the braces on the ladder were locked. He thought the ladder looked old but not dangerous.

Early in the afternoon, the plaintiff moved the ladder to where he was working and climbed up. When he came to the top of the ladder, a run broke. The plaintiff fell headfirst and suffered a neck injury requiring surgery. The ladder fell with him. The plaintiff believed that the rung that broke was already broken because he didn’t think he’d put weight on it prior to falling. He acknowledged he hadn’t inspected the ladder, assuming it was safe to use.

The plaintiff sued the company claiming it had provided the workers the ladder at issue to use in the course of the job at the phone store. He argued the contractor had actual or constructive knowledge of the rung defect and it was negligent in not inspecting and maintaining the ladder.

The lower court believed there was a disputed issue of material fact on the question of whether the company owed a duty to give a safe work environment to the plaintiff. In order to recover for negligence, a plaintiff needs to show: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) causation, and (4) damages. The contractor claims that the plaintiff hadn’t come forward with proof of a breach.

An employer is supposed to use ordinary care to give his employee tools that are in good condition and reasonably suited for the intended use. Employers also have a duty to warn about latent defects of which it is or should be aware in tools it supplies. Reciprocally, an employee is supposed to use care for his own safety and can’t recover damages for a defective tool where in the use of ordinary care, he could have found the defect.

The appellate court explained that the ladder breaking while it was being used is not enough to show it was defective in some way. The plaintiff’s opinion that the rung was already broken was insufficient for purposes of defeating the summary judgment motion. Merely raising a possibility isn’t enough to create an inference of fact. Where a plaintiff’s argument is based on conjecture or at best, the probabilities are evenly balanced, the lower court is obliged to grant summary judgment. In this case, the plaintiff didn’t present evidence showing knowledge, actual or constructive of a defect in the ladder. The appellate court reversed the denial of the contractor’s summary judgment motion and remanded the case for entry of judgment in the contractor’s favor.

If you were injured by dangerous tools or equipment on another party’s property in Atlanta, you should consult an experienced personal injury and premises liability attorney. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience representing clients injured in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can contact us through our website.

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