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Slip and Fall at a Georgia Gas Station

Slip and fall litigation in Georgia often turns on the question of whether a dangerous condition was created by a property owner, or whether the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and made appropriate repairs or offered warnings.

In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a plaintiff slipped and fell while getting out of his car at a gas station. He sued the owner of the gas station. The lower court granted the owner’s summary judgment motion, determining there wasn’t any evidence of a dangerous condition at the gas station and deciding he wasn’t entitled to a spoliation presumption based on the owner’s inability to produce a surveillance recording of the gas station on the day of the fall.

The evidence showed it rained on the day of the fall. At the time he fell, however, the rain had stopped. The plaintiff went with his wife and pulled up next to a gas station pump. He didn’t observe any liquid on the concrete, but when he got out of his car, he slipped on what he believed was a wet, slippery foreign substance. Afterward, his clothes were wet. He couldn’t figure out the nature of the substance that made his clothes wet and didn’t look at the ground to figure out what triggered the fall. Neither did his wife.

A manager of the owner was called to the scene. He would later testify that the plaintiff fell in rainwater. The appellate court explained that the crucial issue in a slip and fall lawsuit is whether there was a dangerous condition. Generally, a fall without anything further doesn’t trigger proprietor liability. The reason a proprietor can be held liable for personal injury to an invitee is that the proprietor has superior knowledge of a condition that can expose the invitee to an unreasonable risk of injuries. However, if rainwater was the sole reason for the slip and fall, there was no unreasonable risk of harm. Rather, it’s common knowledge that rainy days cause water to accumulate and people expect that.

On the day the plaintiff fell, it had been raining. He said that the ground wasn’t wet anymore, but he also said that he slipped in something that dampened his clothing. The only evidence about that substance was the unit manager’s testimony and this testimony allowed the defendant to meet its burden for summary judgment. The burden then shifted to the plaintiff to point out certain evidence that created a triable issue in order to avoid summary judgment. But the plaintiff didn’t present that evidence that he was exposed to a substance that posed an unreasonable risk of harm. He claimed it had to be something besides rainwater and pointed out the manager’s deposition that other liquid sometimes collected on the pavement near the gas pumps.

The plaintiff argued that there was a factual issue about whether the gas station kept reasonable inspection procedures. The court determined this didn’t require a different result. It noted the lack of factual issues about whether the gas station was home to a dangerous condition.

Relying on another Georgia appellate decision, the plaintiff claimed he was entitled to a spoliation presumption that a surveillance tape of the gas station would have damaged the defendant’s case. The court disagreed, explaining that notice of possible liability wasn’t the same as notice of possible litigation. Based on those circumstances, it couldn’t say the lower court had abused its discretion in finding he hadn’t shown entitlement to a spoliation presumption. The judgment was affirmed.

If you were injured by a dangerous condition on somebody else’s property, premises liability attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert may be able to help you. He has over 20 years of experience representing injured clients 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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