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Liability for Injury on a School Bus Step in Georgia

Rainy season can result in hazardous accumulations of water on property. In order to recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of slippery conditions on someone else’s property, you’ll need to bring an Atlanta premises liability lawsuit. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a student slipped on a wet step and broke her ankle while getting off a county school district bus.

There had been rain that day. The bus driver testified there were checklists he had to follow to make sure the bus was working properly, but there weren’t mandatory procedures he was required to follow in case rain entered the bus. The bus driver didn’t see the student fall, but did remember it was wet that day. No other students fell or complained of slippery steps.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued the Board of Education alleging it had negligently failed to inspect or discover there was a dangerous condition and negligently failed to remedy the situation or give proper warnings. They also claimed the Board had hired a dangerous driver. They claimed the Board was both directly liable and vicariously liable.

The Board moved for summary judgment. It argued that if there was a danger, the student knew about it, yet didn’t use the handrail. The motion for summary judgment was granted. The student’s guardian appealed.

The appellate court explained that to recover under a premises liability theory, a plaintiff needs to demonstrate the injury was caused by a danger on the owner’s premises that the owner should have removed in using ordinary care for the public’s safety. A plaintiff needs to prove the defendant knew or had reason to know about a danger, but that she lacked knowledge in spite of using ordinary care because of the defendant’s actions or conditions under the defendant’s control.

In this case, the plaintiffs argued that they’d shown evidence that the bus driver had constructive knowledge of the danger and it could be imputed to the Board. They claimed that the Board didn’t have the inspection procedures or policies that would have resulted in the danger being apprehended. The appellate court agreed that there was enough evidence for a trier of fact to determine there was constructive knowledge of the water. It explained constructive knowledge can be shown by proving employees were near the hazard and could’ve removed it or through proof that the substance had existed for long enough that it would’ve been found if the proprietor used reasonable care in inspecting the property and that, once it was discovered, an owner using reasonable care would have cleaned it up.

The plaintiffs pointed out that the bus driver had testified he could see the step where the student fell from his seat and that he kept a broom with him on the bus. A jury could find that the bus driver was in the vicinity of the danger and the bus driver could have removed the puddling water on the step with the broom.

The Board argued that the student hadn’t held the rail in spite of realizing the wet conditions. However, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the student’s failure to use the handrail didn’t mean she was negligent as a matter of law. The plaintiff knew it was raining, but there was no claim she’d hurried to get off the bus. The court couldn’t say the evidence of her negligence was palpable, plain or undisputed. Rather the issue of whether her failure to use the handrail barred recovery was a question for the jury. The appellate court also reasoned that the undisputed evidence didn’t show her knowledge of the danger was equal to or greater than the Board’s.

The plaintiff also argued that the lower court had made a mistake in deciding there was no danger. The appellate court agreed. It explained that an owner could be liable for failing to remedy an abnormal accumulation of water. The Board argued the evidence, the student’s testimony, wasn’t credible. However, the appellate court reasoned that credibility shouldn’t be determined via summary judgment. The judgment was reversed in part and affirmed in part.

If you or your child was injured because of slippery conditions on another’s property, you should consult a seasoned premises liability attorney as soon as possible. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than two decades providing legal representation to those injured in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call him at (404) 370-1000 or contact him through our website.

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