In states around the country, including Georgia, property owners owe individuals who come onto their property a basic duty to protect them from harm. This means that property owners cannot knowingly maintain harmful or dangerous conditions on their property, such as broken railings or deep holes, that put the public at risk. But what about circumstances in which it is not clear that the property owner is aware the dangerous condition exists? In certain circumstances, the owner can be held liable for conditions he or she should have known existed, but owners will not automatically be held liable for an unknown harm just because it caused an injury.
In Youngblood v. All American Quality Foods, Inc., Ms. Youngblood was injured after she slipped and fell in a puddle of water that had formed at a grocery store. She was injured in the accident and sued All American Quality Foods, also known as Food Depot, for her injuries. She argued that Food Depot had a duty to use ordinary care in keeping its grocery stores safe for customers. In response, Food Depot moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no notice that the water puddle existed and could not reasonably have prevented it from causing Ms. Youngblood’s injuries. The trial court agreed. Ms. Youngblood appealed.
In Georgia, owners of land who invite the public to enter it are liable for injuries caused by their failure to use ordinary care in keeping such land safe. This is known as premises liability. But in order to prove liability under this standard, an injured plaintiff must show: (1) prior to the accident, the owner had notice of the hazard that caused the accident, or the owner should have known of the hazard; and (2) the injured plaintiff did not have knowledge of the hazard. For the purposes of Ms. Youngblood’s claim, the Georgia Court of Appeals noted that Food Depot could have had constructive knowledge of the hazard (should have known) if an employee was aware of the hazard and could have removed it, or the hazard had existed for a long enough period of time that it should have been removed.
Here, Ms. Youngblood testified that she did not see the puddle before she slipped and fell, and she was unaware of the hazard. She did not know how long the puddle had been there before she fell. At around the time Ms. Youngblood was in the store, an employee did notice the puddle and sent a check-out bagger to go clean it up, but by the time the bagger obtained a bucket and a mop and arrived at the spill, Ms. Youngblood had already fallen. Evidence presented at the trial also showed that there was nothing to suggest that any store employees delayed in reporting the spill, and the aisle where the spill was located had been inspected 20 minutes prior to Ms. Youngblood’s fall, and no spill was noticed.
On the basis of these facts, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court. It found that there was simply no evidence to suggest that Food Depot had notice of the spill and failed to do anything about it, or that the spill had been lingering for so long that Food Depot should have had notice of it. There also was no evidence that after Food Depot employees learned of the spill, they failed to respond adequately to it. Accordingly, the court held that while Food Depot was under a duty to reasonably address known hazards, it had no reason to know of this hazard prior to the time of Ms. Youngblood’s fall and did not act irresponsibly in addressing the spill once they learned of it.
Slip and fall accidents are not uncommon, and many plaintiffs have successfully sought recovery for their accidents and injuries in court. However, before filing a premises liability case, it is important to make sure that you can show that the defendant had notice of the hazard you experienced, or should have had notice, but failed to address it. An experienced injury attorney would be able to carefully assess your premises liability case in an effort to assert your rights under the circumstances. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than 20 years of experience representing clients who have been injured in premises liability 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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