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Plaintiff’s Knowledge of a Dangerous Condition in a Georgia Premises Liability Case

A plaintiff’s own knowledge of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property in Atlanta can affect the outcome of a premises liability case. In a recent Georgia appellate case, the plaintiff appealed from a lower court’s granting of summary judgment to a store and the store’s manager. She had sued the store and the manager after tripping and falling over a raised metal part of a cart corral in the parking lot.

The case arose when the plaintiff was leaving the store and putting her groceries in the car. She pushed her cart to the corral and, while leaving it, caught her foot in the crossbar of the corral, resulting in her falling and breaking her arm. The crossbar usually lies flat on the asphalt, but it was raised on one side at about 1 1/8 inches because a delivery truck had once hit the corral.

After the fall, she was certain she’d tripped on the raised portion of the crossbar because she felt her foot catch, and when she looked back, she saw the raised portion of the crossbar.  The plaintiff sued the store and the store manager, claiming they knew about the state of the corral and negligently failed to maintain it or warn her about the hazardous condition. The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the state of the corral was an open and obvious condition. They also argued that she’d successfully gone through the air before she later tripped and that she hadn’t used reasonable care.

The defendants conceded at the summary judgment hearing that they had known about the raised portion of the crossbar for months before the plaintiff fell. The manager had told the district operations manager that the corral had been hit and bent, but no replacement was made.

The lower court decided that the raised part of the crossbar was static and clearly observable and had been there for months. It granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion.

Among other things, the plaintiff argued on appeal that the summary judgment motion was decided in error. She claimed that whether the danger was static and clearly observable was a factual issue. She also claimed that there was a factual issue about whether she knew of the danger. The appellate court agreed with her that the summary judgment motion was wrongly decided.

In order to win a trip and fall claim, a plaintiff needs to show:  (1) the property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the harm, and (2) the plaintiff didn’t have knowledge of the danger, in spite of using ordinary care, because of conditions or actions within the owner’s control. With regard to the plaintiff’s knowledge, the record needs to show concretely and without issue that the plaintiff did know about the danger and her knowledge was better than or equal to the defendant’s knowledge or that she could have had such knowledge had she used ordinary care.

If reasonable minds don’t reach the same conclusion about questions related to whether there was a breach of duty to invitees and whether the invitee used reasonable care for personal safety, it’s not appropriate to summarily adjudicate the motion. Since the defendants had conceded they knew about the danger, the question was whether the plaintiff used reasonable care and still didn’t know about the raised portion.

The court concluded that there were factual issues about the plaintiff’s knowledge and about whether she had used reasonable care. Her expert had explained that the elevation change was inherently dangerous. He had also explained that these elevations should be beveled to make them safe. The plaintiff had also testified she didn’t see the crossbar damage. The appellate court noted that an invitee doesn’t need to keep looking at the ground continuously for problems because an invitee is allowed to assume the owner used reasonable care to make the premises safe.

For these and other reasons, the court reversed the denial of the summary judgment motion.

If you were injured by a dangerous condition on another party’s property in Atlanta, you should consult an experienced 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.